For a short while, some progressives worried that Manchin, and perhaps Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) would break and give Republicans some bipartisan cover. Those three Democrats, widely seen as the most vulnerable in 2018, had backed Neil M. Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination; they had played ball with Trump when he delivered speeches in their states, with Heitkamp even joining him on Air Force One. For weeks, they participated in talks with the White House, reporting back positively on what they’d discussed.
But to progressives’ delight, the White House never brought the red state Democrats on board. The problem was simple: White House negotiators would sound open to what the Democrats suggested, and then House and Senate Republicans would rush ahead with completely different ideas.
“There’s always a reason to watch when one of those White House meetings is called, but we never saw a serious proposition that could attract Democratic senators,” said Tim Hogan, a spokesman for the anti-tax-cut group Tax March. “I think it shows so clearly that this tax bill has nothing to do with the middle class. Every Democratic senator knows that this bill would further rig the system in favor of the 1 percent — there’s just no appetite for that. And at no point was there an effort to dangle anything appealing to any of them.”
Recent polling, however, found that the tax-cut bill that was working through Congress was broadly unpopular, with only a few isolated ideas, such as doubling the standard deduction, finding favor with voters. A Quinnipiac poll released Nov. 15, and frequently cited by Democrats, found just 25 percent of voters in favor of the plan and only 16 percent confident that it would cut their taxes.
“When I took this job, I never expected that Republicans would let a tax bill include middle-class tax increases,” said T.J. Helmstetter, a spokesman for the progressive Americans for Tax Fairness. “There’s no pressure to support that.”
Other Democrats have learned from experience that the price for opposing a tax cut is low, and the reward for backing it is dubious. In 2001, when George W. Bush pushed his first tax cut through the Senate, 12 Democrats voted with Republicans — a major victory over the slim Democratic majority. Yet two of the Democrats who backed the tax cut, Missouri’s Jean Carnahan and Georgia’s Max Cleland, went on to lose reelection bids in 2002.
Between this and the absolutely rock-solid unanimous opposition to the ACA repeal bills, the era in which moderate Democrats would convince themselves that supporting substantively bad and unpopular Republican initiatives would carry political benefits because something seems to be over.