In the last two months, the race for the 2016 Republican nomination has narrowed sharply, with only four major candidates appearing viable.
Now, we should probably question the democratic legitimacy of winnowing the field before any real votes have been cast. Nevertheless, the final choice for voters, both economically and in terms of personalities, is becoming clearer.
Two of the candidates seemingly most qualified, Rick Perry and Scott Walker, were eliminated early. The other governors, Chris Christie, John Kasich, and Bobby Jindal, are lagging in polls. Finally, Jeb Bush, not just a governor because of his family connections, has also seriously underperformed.
But senators have done much better.
Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are emerging at the front of the pack of professional politicians, with Rubio representing the establishment wing and Cruz representing the more conservative anti-establishment elements.
Indeed, both Cruz and Rubio seem likely to be in the “Final Four” that will represent the main competition when real voting begins.
And yet, the non-politicians have dominated the polling thus far.
Donald Trump and Ben Carson remain on top, although Carly Fiorina, briefly a favorite of the neocon crowd because of her ultra-hawkish remarks in the second debate, has fallen back as her business track record at Hewlett-Packard has been examined.
Trump and Carson also seem likely to make it into the Final Four when real voting begins, with Carson’s position being perhaps the most fragile of the top group.
The Fiscal Implications
Ultimately, the primary electorates will have some real choices.
For his part, Trump has staked his position on a hardline view on immigration. In other respects, he’s a fairly conventional, big government, crony capitalist Republican.
Eventually his supporters may cotton on to the reality that they’re by no means certain to get his stated immigration policies, such as the 2,000-mile wall along the southern border. At the same time, they’re very likely to get some of his less attractive protectionist and crony capitalist economic policies.
Indeed, Trump’s tax plan would reduce revenues by a whopping $10.1 trillion over the next decade, according to the Tax Foundation even after accounting for greater growth. There’s also no evidence that Trump would reduce spending. But then, judging by his finances, Trump’s major qualification for the presidency may be his ability to deal with a U.S. bankruptcy.
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At best, he’s a very slippery customer.
Carson would be an ideal President, if only one could be sure of his grasp of the issues. His tax plan is as yet somewhat undefined, but he has come out in favor of abolishing tax deductions both for home mortgage interest and, more importantly, for charitable donations.
Given the explosion of entitlement spending, the need for defense spending in a dangerous world, and the unlikelihood of getting more than modest spending cuts out of a corrupt Congress, abolishing these deductions is the only way to get close to balancing the budget without increasing marginal tax rates to confiscatory levels (when state and local taxes are included).
More specifically, abolishing the home mortgage tax deduction would affect both the rich and the middle class, while abolishing the charitable tax deduction would remove an egregious rich-people tax scam.
Now, abolishing the charitable tax deduction would defund some valuable charities, but more important, it would also effectively end a huge number of politicized scams such as the Clinton Foundation. In fact, the country would benefit twice from its abolition, both in the budget and in the diversion of resources from the non-profit sector (which is damaging, on balance) to better uses.
Elsewhere, Cruz and Rubio both have tax plans that would increase the deficit even though their tax plans and deregulations might produce enough growth to alleviate the problem.
All told, Rubio’s plan would cut taxes more for the relatively poor. Rubio also plans to increase immigration, a policy that not only has little popular support among the GOP (7% at the last poll) but would increase long-term burdens on the welfare system and depress wages.
Once the primaries roll round, it seems likely that voters will be able to choose between four candidates: Trump, Carson, Rubio, and Cruz. All have a decent shot at the nomination, and all have different approaches to economic and fiscal policies.
Yet, in the end, the chance of any GOP candidate being viable, both in terms of winning the presidency and of exercising it effectively, must be no more than 50-50.