Another consequence of the contracted legislative process was that the bill contained, at various times, a range of improbable or politically ill-advised provisions. This included, for example, eliminating the ability to deduct taxes paid to state and local governments, a provision that would have slammed graduate students, and another that would have eliminated a deduction for teachers who purchase classroom supplies. The latter two of these ideas encountered harsh pushback and were ultimately dropped from the final bill, while the final bill opted for a $10,000 cap on the state-and-local tax deduction. The focus on these provisions and others like them hurt the bill’s approval and fostered the impression among various parts of the populace that they might be punished rather than rewarded by the new tax code.
Though Democrats could not stop the bill, their messaging, much maligned in recent months, won the day. They were successfully able to convince the public that the bill was geared toward giving corporations a huge, permanent tax cut, while giving individuals only a temporary one; and that the benefits of the bill would accrue overwhelmingly to wealthy taxpayers. This message had the virtue of being true, and it drowned out the GOP message of a tax cut for nearly everyone, at least in the immediate term. In the NBC/WSJ poll, respondents were correctly able to say that wealthy Americans and corporations would pay lower taxes, but pluralities believed that both their own families and middle-class families in general would actually pay more.
Republicans were busy rewriting the bill, and their attempts to sell its benefits were sometimes clumsy, like this weirdly specific scenario that Senator John Cornyn of Texas offered:
When McConnell said that Republicans should find a new line of work if they couldn’t sell the bill, he could have been referring to his own majority whip.
Democrats had the advantage of lots of free time to push their message because they were entirely shut out of the process. Usually the party in power attempts to court at least a few members of the opposition on major legislation like this, in order to give the bill an aura of bipartisanship. (Obamacare is a notable recent example of a party-line vote; Democrats claim they worked hard to get Republicans on board, while Republicans beg to differ.) Republicans barely even went through the motions of recruiting Democrats in either chamber for this bill, calculating that they could pass it without assistance. They were proven correct, but it’s amazing that Democrats were able to hold the line, without a single member voting for a bill that would cut taxes for nearly all Americans.