Who Are They Trying to Convince? Romney, Perry, Cain And Economic Plans

It goes without saying that things could change overnight in primary politics. Someone might say something stupid, or some scandal might blow up, thereby changing everything.

But as of right now, there are three main candidates for the nomination: Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain. On Friday, Rick Perry released the first part of his economic plan, focusing on energy. And earlier today, Cain was on Meet The Press defending his 999 Plan from predictable liberal talking points by the “journalist” David Gregory. Romney’s detailed 59-point plan has been out for a while now.

There was an exchange between Gregory and Cain on Meet the Press that was extremely illuminating. Basically, David Gregory echoes the criticism of many a conservatives — even more than a few here on Redstate — and says that 999 can never pass Congress. Gregory points out that Speaker Boehner said there’s very little appetite for real tax reform; he suggests (idiotically, as it turns out, but hey, it’s a good talking point) that lower and middle-income taxpayers will end up paying more, and so will never support 999. Then they get into this:

MR. GREGORY: You think that’s going to create a grassroots support for this.

MR. CAIN: Oh yes, because, if they do the math, do the math on your individual situation, people are going to benefit several other ways other than whether they pay more in taxes. The fact that they’re not going to have the cost of filing and compliance. That’s a $430 billion bill for all of us every year. So if they do the math on their individual situation, I believe that they–more people are going to see it’s advantageous.

Now, here is another way, another piece of the puzzle that will help me get this passed. Public support and simplicity. Simplicity and public support because they understand it is what’s going to allow the public to help put pressure on Congress to get this passed. That’s my plan. [Emphasis mine]

You can watch the video as well to get the flavor of the exchange.

It’s a variation of what Cain has been saying on the stump for months now: “If they understand it, they will demand it.”

More On the Political Reality Thing

I’ve read through the Romney and Perry plans, as released thus far. (Although, to be honest, I just couldn’t keep my focus on the 160 page, 59-point Romney plan, but I did skim it as best as I could… and here’s the summary anyhow.) And maybe it’s because I’ve been defending Cain and arguing with several of you on the politics, but a few things jumped out at me.

Among Mitt Romney’s 59 points are the following:

3. Eliminate taxes for taxpayers with AGI below $200,000 on interest, dividends, and capital gains
4. Eliminate the death tax
5. Pursue a conservative overhaul of the tax system over the long term that includes lower, flatter rates on a broader base
6. Reduce corporate income tax rate to 25 percent
7. Pursue transition from “worldwide” to “territorial” system for corporate taxation
8. Repeal Obamacare
9. Repeal Dodd-Frank and replace with streamlined, modern regulatory framework
10. Amend Sarbanes-Oxley to relieve mid-size companies from onerous requirements
16. Reform legal liability system to prevent spurious litigation
17. Implement agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea
18. Reinstate the president’s Trade Promotion Authority
21. Create the Reagan Economic Zone
22. Increase CBP resources to prevent the illegal entry of goods into our market
24. Use unilateral and multilateral punitive measures to deter unfair Chinese practices
25. Designate China a currency manipulator and impose countervailing duties
30. Amend Clean Air Act to exclude carbon dioxide from its purview
41. Amend NLRA to explicitly protect the right of business owners to allocate their capital as they see fit
42. Amend NLRA to guarantee the secret ballot in every union certification election
43. Amend NLRA to guarantee that all pre-election campaigns last at least one month
47. Eliminate redundancy in federal retraining programs by consolidating programs and funding streams, centering as much activity as possible in a single agency
48. Give states authority to manage retraining programs by block granting federal funds
49. Facilitate the creation of Personal Reemployment Accounts
51. Raise visa caps for highly skilled workers
52. Grant permanent residency to eligible graduates with advanced degrees in math, science, and engineering
53. Immediately cut non-security discretionary spending by 5 percent
54. Reform and restructure Medicaid as block grant to states
55. Align wages and benefits of government workers with market rates
57. Cap federal spending at 20 percent of GDP
58. Undertake fundamental restructuring of government programs and services
59. Pursue a Balanced Budget Amendment

As far as I can tell (more expert people, please weigh in), every single one of the above would require Congressional action.

Rick Perry’s energy plan (a really excellent, detailed one, by the way, worthy of the Governor of Texas) includes the following:

We believe that as a precursor to comprehensive tax reform (moving towards a flatter corporate tax code), we must eliminate as many specific subsidies and tax credits as possible. Under a Perry administration, no new specific tax incentives will be issued for energy development, eliminating government sponsorship for certain types of energy. In order to allow emerging energy sources to reevaluate and reorient their business model towards a more competitive environment, existing specific tax incentives would not be eliminated immediately, but instead would be allowed to expire when they come up for renewal.

To be fair, Perry touted his energy plan as effective partially because he can implement the plan without seeking Congressional approval, or legislation. He can accomplish much of it through executive order. But, as far as I know, the President doesn’t control tax policy, so Perry will need to get Congress to pass whatever his tax plans are.

Furthermore, Perry hints at his broader tax plan: “flatter corporate tax code”, eliminating government subsidies and tax credits. Well, let’s suppose Perry does come out in favor of a Flat Tax, as was suggested in a recent diary.

That will require Congress to do some legislatin’

So as Gregory is grilling Cain about how in Gaea’s name he was going to get 999 passed, I started wondering… just how in Gaea’s name is Perry going to get his economic plan passed (especially if the centerpiece is a Flat Tax)? How the hell is Mitt Romney going to get tort reform legislation passed (not to mention repeal of Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, and the other dozens of legislative action needed)? #30 – “Amend Clean Air Act to exclude carbon dioxide from its purview” — does Mitt Romney think that he can just waltz into Congress, demand that they amend the law, and voila, it shall be done? This after  the past decade or so of American people being told that denying Global Warming is the equivalent of denying the Holocaust?

When the David Gregory’s of the world from CNN to NY Times to WaPo to every other media outlet start grilling Romney or Perry for lowering taxes on the super-rich, opening up pristine National Forests to greedy oil companies, and the like… and suggest that there is ZERO political appetite for any of these reforms… what exactly will be Romney and Perry’s response?

I’d have to imagine that the response would be the same as Cain’s: “Look, David, if I’m gonna get elected at all, it means that the American people want these reforms. So they’ll pressure their representatives to get with the program.”

But… Who You Talkin’ To, Willis?

As I see things, the only way that Republicans get anything done to save the country from certain ruin is to repeal a bunch of bad laws, get rid of a very large part of the Federal bureaucracy, and make fundamental changes to the tax code and to entitlements. This is not a partisan position; it’s simple mathematics. We make major changes

Paul Ryan was on Uncommon Knowledge recently, talking about the politics behind entitlement reform.

Go to about 24:15 of the video for the relevant part. (I don’t believe there’s a transcript, or else I’d copy and paste….)

Paul Ryan says, “Look, here’s the way I see it: we need to kick this thing upstairs to the American people.” His view is that we are at a crossroads as a nation. If the American people want to become a declining socialist nation — the path of Obama — then so be it! If they don’t like the direction that Obama and Democrats are taking the country, then let that be the case. Ryan believes that we have a moral obligation to set forth the alternative to the current path to the American people.

Ryan says, “I look forward to this debate; we have to have this debate. Our job is to get this debate going; it’s to get the country talking about the big issues that will determine the future of this country.”

I happen to agree.

But here’s the question: Who is this “we” that has to have this debate?

Is the “we” the enlightened few who make politics a central part of their lives? Is the “we” the assembled policy wonks of Washington DC, the consultants, the various activist leaders (including most of the people here on Redstate.com), and the like who need to have this debate?

Or is it the average American on the street?

Because I have news for the Romney and Perry campaigns… If the people who need to have this debate are the average American citizen, the your plans need to be far, far simpler and far easier to understand.

Here’s a challenge: go read the 160 page Romney Plan, and try to explain it to your not-so-political friend or neighbor. Go read the admittedly excellent energy plan of Gov. Perry, and see if you can explain it to your “yeah, I care about politics, but man, I’m busy raising kids and holding down a job” co-worker.

Those of us who spend way too much time reading political blogs, reading up on the news, following minutiae of debates and policy positions and the horserace might have no trouble understanding what it is that Perry and Romney are proposing. But I gotta tell ya… if you’re not a political junkie, you’re simply not gonna pay any attention to all that complicated plan stuff. “Amend Sarbanes-Oxley to relieve mid-size companies from onerous requirements” is going to make any average person glaze over immediately.

My test for whether a political idea is salable is my wife. She’s a conservative, a lifelong Republican. But she works fulltime, takes care of two kids (and a husband), looks after her mother, has friends, coworkers, things to do. She’s not following politics with anywhere close to the obsession I have. If I can’t explain it to her, then whatever “it” is is too complicated, too detailed, and fit only for policy wonks.

Romney and Perry both have put forth serious plans. There are quite a few things to like about their plans. And when Perry releases the future parts of the economic plan (taxes, entitlements, etc.), I’m sure they’ll be solid as well. But there ain’t no way in hell my wife is going to read those plans. She’s simply not gonna go through 59 points of action, nor is she going to delve into Perry’s erudite solutions for energy independence.

Which means that Romney and Perry are speaking to the Republican political elites. They want to impress the political junkies, the activists, the party leadership, the talking heads and the consultants with their detailed plans. But they’re simply not talking to the average Republican voter, nor are they talking to the average American voter.

Can We Simplify?

Speaking as a Cain partisan, I’d like to ask if the other candidates can simplify the message. Simplify the plan. Even if the wise men and the talking heads make fun of your hopelessly naive, not-a-plan-but-a-slogan plan, simplify it. Make it something the average citizen can (a) understand within 30 seconds, and (b) explain to other average citizens in under a minute.

The 999 Plan, for all of its warts and flaws and as-yet-unanswered-mysteries, is so powerful because it is so simple. 9% corporate tax, 9% personal income tax, 9% sales tax — and nothing else. You can disagree with it, as many have, but… you had to understand it to disagree with it. And you did understand it, didn’t you?

Can you say the same for the Romney plan? For the Perry energy proposal?

Yes, leave the heavy duty substance in for the politically engaged (like us); but in this time, when the country as a whole needs to have deep conversations about important issues, can we simplify it? Can we make it easy to understand, easy to explain, easy to debate?

I think that more and more, my support for Cain solidifies not because he’s some policy genius, but because he’s a brilliant marketer. The 999 Plan might seem a novel idea, but in reality, it’s just a really clever idea that can be marketed effectively. As a conservative, I’m not really looking for sophisticated new governance models: our principles are enough. But I am looking for someone who can market our principles and sell our ideas effectively in the public marketplace.

Cain has proven he can do just that. Romney, Perry, and anyone else still in the race… y’all need to get to work. Show me you can sell conservatism to the American people. Show me you can make them understand your plan. Because if they understand it, they will demand it.