Aug 10, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump tries to set a tax trap for Biden

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump is trying to lure Joe Biden into a Walter Mondale trap — attempting to force the Democratic nominee to embrace middle-class tax increases as part of his election strategy.

Why it matters: With his Saturday evening executive action to unilaterally rewrite the tax code, Trump again is demonstrating the lengths to which he’ll go to change the conversation — and try to make the election a choice between him and Biden, and not a referendum on him.

In Biden's response, he didn’t take the bait. Instead, he used the White House effort to suspend payroll taxes as a way to double down on his appeal to seniors and cast himself as the defender of Social Security.

  • Biden called Trump's plan a "first shot in a new, reckless war on Social Security.”

The context: Trump's backers have tested the Mondale comparisons since May 2019, when Biden said in South Carolina, to applause: "First thing I’m gonna do is repeal this Trump tax cut."

  • But Biden has been more disciplined and nuanced since. He’s also stayed in touch with Mondale over the years. And as vice president, Biden studied Mondale's papers to learn from history.

What we're watching: Biden isn't opposed to raising taxes on the wealthy — he told Wall Street donors as much in June. But he’s never said he'd raise middle-class taxes.

  • Look for Trump to try and force Biden to take a more explicit position on the payroll tax suspension for those making less than $100,000.

Between the lines: Repealing tax cuts is much harder once voters get used to them.

  • President Obama campaigned on scrapping the Bush 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy.
  • But in 2012, he compromised and made them permanent for families making less than $450,000. That’s an expansive definition of the middle class.
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