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Martin Dyckman: GOP field stretches relativity to its limits

Relativity describes not only the immensity of the universe but also the small world of American politics.

George Washington was everyone’s choice for the presidency, but ever since elections to posts high and low have as often been about who might do the least harm rather than the most good.

The race for the Republican presidential nomination is one of those least-harm dilemmas. It’s stretching relativity to the breaking point.

It must be unbearably painful for whatever traditional, Eisenhower-style Republicans still remain in the Grand Old Party.

In Ike’s day, it was unthinkable for any serious Republican candidate to propose policies that would engorge the national debt.

But the leading Republican candidate would do just that, cloaking his demagogic opportunism in a veneer of tax cuts for everyone.

So are the two presumably “responsible” candidates who seem at the moment to have the best chances to overtake him,

Paul Krugman, the Nobel laureate in economics, described it this way in The New York Times:

“So Donald Trump has unveiled his tax plan. It would, it turns out, lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.

“This is in contrast to Jeb Bush’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit, and Marco Rubio’s plan, which would lavish huge cuts on the wealthy while blowing up the deficit.”

Keep in mind that the debt is now more than $18-trillion, which is a shade larger than the nation’s annual gross domestic product.

Expressed in those terms, it’s manageable – not unlike owing a little more on your mortgage than you earn in a year. But the last thing you would want to do is to borrow a lot more without a clue as to how you’d pay it back.

The United States needs to invest more in many things, chiefly infrastructure, education, and public health.

It needs nothing less than to squander more tax cuts on those who need them the least.

Trump’s tax plan, featuring everyone’s feel-good reform of ending the special concessions for hedge fund managers, is barren of anything that would offset his enormous rate cuts across the board.

Without compensating budget cuts, according to the nonpartisan Tax Foundation, Trump would add about $10 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. The liberal-leading Citizens for Tax Justice puts it at nearly $11 trillion, more than a third of which would go to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. They’d save an average of $184,000 a year, compared to a mere $250 for the poorest and $5,000 for middle income taxpayers. The hedge fund crowd would continue to make out like bandits.

Trump is counting on that $5,000 for the middle class to blind them to the budget cuts and to the windfalls for the 1 percent.

Bush’s plan would cost less overall but is far worse in the proportion, slightly more than half, that would go to the wealthiest 1 per cent: $82,000 on average for them compared with only $227 for the poorest and $1,482 for middle income people.

In his accustomed glib manner, Bush says that’s “just the way it is” because rich people make the most money and pay the most taxes.

When he was governor, he made Florida even more of a paradise for the rich by eliminating the state’s only wealth tax, which was a small levy on stocks, bonds and certain other intangibles. It was part of his mission to shrink government into invisibility.

Rubio’s scheme, likely crafted to lure wealthy donors from Bush, zeroes out taxes on capital gains, dividends and estates. Write off more trillions.

The three of them contend that drastic tax cuts would generate greater investment, a more robust economy, and higher revenue down the road.

“A renaissance of investment in our own country,” is how Jeb puts it.

His father once had a memorably better term for it: “voodoo economics.”

It didn’t work then, it hasn’t worked since, and it won’t work now.

It’s painful to have to keep beating up on Bush. From what I think a traditional Republican viewpoint would be, he probably threatens the least harm among those with a plausible shot at the GOP nomination. I wish John Kasich, the only one with experience as a congressman and a governor, were polling better than he does.

The ticket-leaders Trump, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, who pretend that inexperience is a virtue, would do the most harm. Their appeal is to the anarchist wing of the Republican electorate – people who, in another life would have thronged what is now the Place de la Concorde  to cheer the French Revolution guillotining its own leaders.

Just when it seemed Rubio was showing signs of maturity, he played to the mob by exulting in the departure of John Boehner. He’s not ready to lead.

But Bush’s foot-in-mouth syndrome is to make one wonder whether even he is either. “Stuff happens” may not be the true measure of what Bush felt about yet another campus gun massacre, but it’s what he said. When he spoke of “free stuff,” he may not have meant that’s what black voters expect of the government, but it’s what he said.

The Oval Office is no place to be speaking in haste and having to explain at length. What a president says could crash stock markets and start wars.

It’s clearly no place for a Trump, a Fiorina or a Carson. It remains to be proven to Republican voters whether it’s the right place for another Bush.

Martin Dyckman is a retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times. He lives in Asheville, North Carolina. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

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