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Bannon’s Bracket

by Reihan Salam

In defense of the White House strategist’s call for a higher top tax rate

At the start of the Trump presidency, Steve Bannon dominated the headlines. He was seen as the president’s chief ideologist, and the entire White House press corps hung on his every word. But in the months since, his influence has faded as other figures have taken center stage — H. R. McMaster on foreign policy, Gary Cohn on economic policy, and Jared and Ivanka on everything under the sun. So there was a frisson of excitement when Jonathan Swan of Axios reported in early July that Bannon was asserting himself once again, this time by urging that President Trump play against type for a Republican by calling for higher taxes on the rich. Specifically, Swan reported that the White House’s chief strategist wanted the top income-tax bracket to “have a 4 in front of it,” making it higher than the current 39.6 percent top bracket first established during the Clinton years and brought back to life under President Obama. The idea is nothing if not Bannonesque. How better to prove that you’re the scourge of the GOP establishment and the champion of the working class than by outflanking Democrats to the left on the taxes paid by millionaires and billionaires?

It didn’t take long for others in Trumpworld to pour cold water on Bannon’s call for soaking the rich. When asked about Bannon’s proposed tax hike, a senior administration official told The Weekly Standard simply that “we’re beyond that.” Speaking anonymously, another White House insider was even more brutal, telling the Daily Beast that Bannon “says a lot of things.” Ouch. In other words, Bannon was doing little more than showboating for his friends in the media. Anti-tax pressure groups such as FreedomWorks and Americans for Tax Reform were similarly dismissive of the idea, and it’s easy to see why: All indications are that the Trump White House wants deeper tax cuts on the rich than were on offer just a few months ago, and that Cohn and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, the chief drivers of Trump’s tax-reform agenda, are no longer wedded to a revenue-neutral approach.

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