So much of our politics is based on illusion. Something can look or feel a certain way but, on closer inspection, turns out to be untrue. Two examples, one from the Democrats and another from the Republicans, show the ways in which false assumptions and beliefs can mislead us.
Bernie Sanders is the socialist candidate for president, although he prefers the term “Democratic-Socialist,” since it makes it easier for him to sell Marxist social and economic theory to a nation brought up on free markets and rugged individualism. Sanders is a working-class champion fighting for tax fairness and against income inequality, or so we are led to believe.
Sanders waited until late in the day on Friday to release his 2014 tax returns, obviously hoping voters would overlook the news that he and his wife, Jane, paid an effective tax rate of 13.5 percent, or $27,653 in federal taxes on an adjusted gross income of $205,271.
When it was revealed that former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney paid 14 percent of his income in taxes in 2011, the news was greeted with howls of protest from the left. Romney’s income was mostly dividends and capital gains, which are supposed to be taxed at 15 percent. Generous charitable contributions allowed him to lower that number even further.
Sanders’ six-figure income puts him in the 28 percent bracket for married joint filers. He cut that rate by more than half by taking more than $64,000 in deductions — all perfectly legal, but no one expected the redistributionist to redistribute less, on a percentage basis, than a prominent member of the capitalist class.
As much as he may think of himself as “one of the poorer members of the United States Senate,” Sanders is near the top 5 percent of all Americans in terms of income. The core of the Sanders campaign is getting the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share. Such high-minded principles should also apply to socialists making more than $200,000 a year.
On the other side of the aisle, Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, a vocal Donald Trump opponent, tweeted last week that he voted early for Senator Ted Cruz in his state’s May 10 primary. Sasse stopped short of actually endorsing Cruz for the Republican nomination, though.
Therein lies the problem for the Cruz campaign. Comedian Martin Short has a funny line about what it means to pretend to like someone in the make-believe world of Hollywood. “Of all the people I have a fake show-business relationship with,” he once told late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, “I feel fake closest to you.”
No one seems to have more fake friends these days than Cruz. The Texas senator is the most unloved person in the US Senate. Yet, as the front man for the Stop Trump movement, he has become a vessel of hope for Republicans who think he is the less bad thing of a pair of bad things. No one better exemplifies this attitude than Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who famously compared the choice between Trump and Cruz to being shot or poisoned.
In Tuesday’s New York primary, Trump crushed Cruz. The math says it is now impossible for Cruz to accumulate the delegates he needs in the remaining contests to win on the first convention ballot. What a difference from two weeks ago, when on the night of his double digit win in Wisconsin, Cruz declared, “We’re winning because we’re uniting the Republican Party.”
A winning campaign for the White House needs to be built on something more than the absence of Trump. It requires real friends, not fake ones.
Eric Fehrnstrom is a Republican political analyst and media strategist, and was a senior adviser to Governor Mitt Romney.