In the race to Stop Trump, virtually every Republican candidate has been held up as a potential beacon of moderation in comparison to the Donald. If Rubio can't play the role, perhaps Kasich can? If no one knows who Kasich is, well, at least Cruz isn't quite as extreme as Trump?
And while Trump has been called out as radical on his views about Mexicans and Muslims, when it comes to economics he's mostly been taken at face value. When he said his tax plan would make "hedge-fund guys" pay up while reducing taxes for the middle class, mainstream news reports heralded the plan as "populist."
But when you dig into the numbers the remaining Republican candidates have proffered in their economic proposals, none of them can hold the title of moderate or populist. Every single one is an extremist. All have put forward relatively detailed plans, and while they all have their quirks, the numbers are strikingly similar — and substantial.
Every single candidate gives a huge gift to the wealthy and a meager one to the less fortunate. Trump doesn't go after the "hedge-fund guys" all that hard, it turns out. Nearly 40 percent of the benefits of his tax package would flow to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans; on the other hand, those in the middle and two bottom-fifths of the income scale would get about 16 percent. The raw dollar amounts are equally eye-popping: Under President Trump, the poorest Americans would see about $200 in tax relief over a decade; the 0.1 percent, richest of the rich, would get more than $1.7 million.
Rubio, the son of a maid and a bartender (as he is wont to mention), looks pretty much the same as the guy who got a $1 million loan from his dad. He would hand more than 40 percent of the benefits of his tax relief to the richest 1 percent of Americans, leaving little for the middle and bottom. That works out to $232 for the poorest, and about $1.1 million for the richest 0.1 percent.
Trump did at least follow through on his promise to include in his plan raising the tax rate on capital gains, or money made from investments rather than through a salary — a means overwhelmingly enjoyed by the rich, although it would still be taxed lower than the highest income bracket. Rubio, though, floats an idea no other Republican has embraced: scrapping the tax on capital gains altogether. All those hedge-fund guys, and every other wealthy person with investments, would receive an enormous handout.
Cruz's tax plan looks a little bit different for deploying what he calls a "business flat tax," which is pretty similar to a European-style value-added tax. But the distribution still ends up skewing toward the rich. With all of his changes taken together, the 1 percent would get a 17 percent boost in their income right out the bat. The poorest, meanwhile, would be only 2.2 percent better off.
Carson takes this repeating script and gives it his own flair. He offers a flat tax, levying a uniform rate on all income, big or small. While the numbers are more bloated, they follow the same pattern: The 1 percent would get two-thirds of the benefits from his plan. At the same time, Carson has been clear that – unlike his rivals – he wants every citizen to owe income taxes, even the most destitute who currently don't pay anything because they make so little. That means that the poorest 40 percent would actually see a tax increase under his plan, while millionaires' burdens would go down. A person in the bottom 20 percent would owe almost $800 more, while someone in the 1 percent would owe about $350,000 less.
Kasich — the supposed rational moderate in the GOP field — hasn't enticed any group to run the numbers on his plan, possibly because he left some key details blank. But the basic building blocks are very similar. In his plan, as with all of his rivals', corporations would face a lower tax rate, as would people who fall in the highest bracket. He would eliminate the estate tax, paid by the wealthiest 0.2 percent when they pass on their inheritances, and lower the capital gains rate — all giveaways to the richest of the rich.
Tax cuts don't come for free — not for the poor or the rich. And so each candidate proposes losing significant amounts of revenue in order to hand these favors to the wealthy. Over the next decade, the government would lose $9.6 trillion under President Carson, $9.5 trillion under President Trump, $8.6 trillion under President Cruz, and $6.8 trillion under President Rubio. There is certainly an enormous different between a $9.6 trillion and $6.8 trillion cost, but these figures are unprecedented. Reagan's tax cuts amounted to a loss of 2.1 percent of GDP, while George W. Bush's cost 1.4 percent. On the other hand, Trump's would cost 4 percent, Cruz's 3.6, and Rubio's 2.6.
Kasich's plan throws in an extra dollop of hardheartedness. He promises to balance the budget in eight years, which might sound good if you think the federal government's finances function like a checkbook, but in fact, they don't. The country currently has a $544 billion deficit; to bring that to zero, particularly while losing so much revenue to tax cuts and implementing his call for a big increase in military spending, all other government programs would have to swallow truly extreme cuts.
Kasich isn't alone in making such a promise, however. Rubio goes even further, calling for an amendment that would require the government to maintain a balanced budget. That would decimate the government's ability to spend more in times of economic turmoil, making recessions longer and deeper, and would force cuts in some parts of the budget if spending has to rise in others — if, for instance, a bunch of people lose their jobs in a recession and file for unemployment insurance at once.
Some of these candidates have actual legislative histories to back up their outrageous proposals, while Trump and Carson so far haven't enacted anything. As governor of Ohio, Kasich pushed through more than $3 billion in tax cuts that helped the wealthy but not anyone else. He also balanced his state's budget without raising new taxes, necessitating huge spending cuts that led to massive layoffs and some cities to actually disincorporate. Rubio and Cruz have spent years in the Senate, and while their proposals haven't become law, Rubio took a colleague's tax-cut package and made it even more costly and beneficial to the rich.
But presidents tend to govern along the lines of the promises they make as candidates. If any of these five men make it to the White House, the economy is in big trouble.