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First Read: Why Trump's Flip-Flop on Taxes Matters

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Donald Trump
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures during a rally in Charleston, W.Va., Thursday, May 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)Steve Helber / AP

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

Why Trump’s flip-flop on taxes is astonishing — and so important

Donald Trump’s recent declaration that taxes for the wealthy should increase is an amazing turn of events in this presidential campaign and for the Republican Party. For starters, it’s a jaw-dropping flip-flop on policy. During the primary season, Trump unveiled a tax plan that, according to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, would give the top 0.1% of income earners like himself an average tax cut of more than $1.3 million (versus $2,700 for those in the middle class).

In his interview on “Meet the Press” yesterday, Trump said his earlier tax plan was all about a starting point in a negotiation. “I'm not under the illusion that that's going to pass. They're going to come to me. They're going to want to raise it for the rich. Frankly, they're going to want to raise it for the rich more than anybody else,” he said. “But the middle class has to be protected. The rich is probably going to end up paying more. And business might have to pay a little bit more. But we're giving a massive business tax cut.”

It makes breaking bread with Paul Ryan a little harder

But Trump’s position on taxes isn’t merely a policy flip-flop; it runs counter to today’s entire Republican Party and conservative movement. Think about if a Democratic presidential nominee called for repealing Obamacare, or admitted, “You know what — I think George W. Bush’s Iraq war was the right call after all.”

Folks, those things are the equivalent of your 2016 presumptive GOP presidential nominee calling for higher taxes on the rich. In our lifetime of covering politics, the position of almost every elected Republican politician has been that lower tax rates, including for the well-off, is the key to economic prosperity, and that any tax hike on the rich is to be opposed at all costs. (Remember that fiscal-cliff debate after the 2012 election?) And so you can see how Trump’s position on taxes could make it hard for restoring unity with key Republicans, especially with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who is an ardent tax-cutter.

In fact, would anyone be surprised if President Obama came out and announced today: “Now that the presumptive Republican nominee is calling for raising taxes on the wealthy, Republican leaders in Congress can now work with me on eliminating a new round of tax loopholes benefiting the Top 1%...”?

Two other Trump flip-flops

Oh, and tax policy isn’t Trump’s only flip-flop since becoming the GOP’s presumptive nominee. Here are reversals on two other issues:


Then: “I think having a low minimum wage is not a bad thing for this country.” (August 20, 2015. Morning Joe interview.)

Now: “I have seen what's going on. And I don't know how people make it on $7.25 an hour. Now, with that being said, I would like to see an increase of some magnitude. But I'd rather leave it to the states. Let the states decide.” (May 8, 2016. NBC’s Meet the Press.)


Then: “By self-funding my campaign, I am not controlled by my donors, special interests or lobbyists. I am only working for the people of the U.S.!” (September 5, 2015. Trump Facebook post.)

Now: “I’ll be putting up money, but won’t be completely self-funding.” (May 4, 2016. Wall Street Journal interview.)

“A movement can survive the loss of an election cycle, but it can’t survive the loss of its purpose”

Speaking of how Trump’s ascension to be the Republican Party’s presidential standard bearer has divided the party, the New York Times puts it this way: “By seizing the Republican presidential nomination for Donald J. Trump on Tuesday night, he and his millions of supporters completed what had seemed unimaginable: a hostile takeover of one of America’s two major political parties.” And here is the reaction from some prominent Republicans like Al Cardenas, who told the Washington Post: “If we do away with the fundamental strength of the conservative movement, which is our ideas and values and principles, then you don’t have anything left but politics. A movement can survive the loss of an election cycle, but it can’t survive the loss of its purpose, and that’s what we’re battling here.” That’s why this isn’t your typical party split. Trump and other Republicans (Romney/Bushes/Lindsey Graham) are fighting over what it means to be a Republican.

Hillary tries to capitalize on the GOP’s divisions

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is campaigning in the swing area of the Northern Virginia suburbs to capitalize on the GOP divisions. Per NBC’s Kristen Welker, Clinton today hits bellwether Loudon County, VA (home to independents and suburban Republicans) to talk with families about child care and paid family leave.

Updating the Democratic delegate math

After allocating the final delegates in Washington state, after Clinton’s win over the weekend in Guam, and after a handful of new superdelegate endorsements, here is where the new Democratic delegate math stands:

In pledged delegates, Clinton currently holds a lead of 285 delegates

  • Clinton 1,704 (55%)
  • Sanders 1,419 (45%)

Clinton must win 35% of remaining pledged delegates to get a majority in pledged delegates

Sanders must win 65% of remaining pledged delegates to get a majority in pledged delegates

In overall delegates (pledged + super), Clinton holds an overall lead of 764 delegates

Clinton must win 15% of remaining delegates to reach 2,383 magic number

Sanders must win 85% of remaining delegates to reach 2,383 magic number

GOP Sen. Flake: If we lose the election, we should confirm Garland quickly

Finally, on “Meet the Press” yesterday, GOP Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) said the GOP should continue to wait on Merrick Garland’s Supreme Court nomination. But he said that if Republicans lose the presidential election, they should confirm his quickly. “I think Republicans are more than justified in waiting. That is following both principle and precedent. But the principle is to have the most conservative, qualified jurists that we can have on the Supreme Court, not that the people ought to decide before the next election. I've never held that position. If we come to a point, I’ve said all along, where we're going to lose the election, or we lose the election in November, then we ought to approve him quickly. Because I'm certain that he'll be more conservative than a Hillary Clinton nomination comes January.”

On the trail

Hillary Clinton campaigns in Stone Ridge, VA…. Bernie Sanders stumps in New Jersey and then California.