Will Debate Moderators Hold GOP Candidates Accountable for Their Fantasy Tax Plans?

One of the moderators of CNBC’s October 28 Republican debate, John Harwood, called out several members of the GOP presidential candidate field in a New York Times article that debunked their attempts to frame major tax cuts for the wealthy as “populist” tax reform proposals. Will Harwood hold the candidates to the same standard during the live, televised debate?

John Harwood One of Three Moderators for CNBC Debate

CNBC’s Harwood, Quick, Quintanilla to Moderate GOP Debate. On October 21, CNBC announced that daytime anchors Becky Quick and Carl Quintanilla would join Chief Washington Correspondent John Harwood as moderators of the third Republican presidential primary debate on October 28. The network said the two-part debate would focus on “job growth, taxes, technology, retirement and the health of our national economy” and feature a total of 14 Republican hopefuls:

The debate will be divided into two parts. The candidates with an average of three percent in this specified group of national polls will take the stage shortly after 8PM ET for a two-hour debate. The candidates who met the minimum threshold of one percent in any one of the specified group of national polls will take the stage at 6PM ET. [CNBC, 10/21/15]

Harwood Criticized GOP’s “Populist Talk” on Tax Reform in NYT Article

Harwood Criticized GOP Candidates Who Have “Shied Away From Economic Populism.” In an October 14 article for The New York Times, CNBC’s Harwood wrote that although GOP candidates have offered “populist talk” on tax reform, their individual plans would disproportionately benefit wealthy Americans. Citing GOP criticism of former (Republican-appointed) Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s stated wish that “some Wall Street executives had gone to jail” after the 2008 financial crisis, Harwood explained that “Republican candidates have shied away from” that kind of “economic populism” in the 2016 campaign, despite their campaign trail rhetoric, and instead offered tax reform proposals that “deliver disproportionate gains to the most affluent” and “reflect[] a party still wedded to the theories of supply-side economics.” [The New York Times, 10/14/15]

Media Have Fallen for Candidates’ Faux Populism in the Past

Outlets Praised Trump’s “Populist” Tax Plan That Cuts Taxes For The Wealthy. On September 28, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump offered a tax plan that promised to drastically cut the top marginal tax rate from 39.6 to 25 percent, cut corporate tax rates to 15 percent, and eliminate the estate tax. Numerous media outlets erroneously claimed that Trump’s plan was a “populist” proposal, despite all evidence to the contrary. Politico even ran a headline that said Trump planned to “hike taxes on the wealthy,” when in fact his plan promised to do the opposite. [Media Matters, 9/28/15; 9/28/15]

Media Claimed Bush’s Traditional Republican Tax Proposal Was “Populist” And Anti-Wall Street. Republican candidate Jeb Bush outlined his tax and economic reform proposals in a September 8 op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, presenting them as policies that would invigorate President Obama’s “anemic economy.” Bush promised to cut the top marginal tax rate to 28 percent and reduce the corporate income rate to 20 percent, a plan modeled on reforms instituted during his tenure as governor of Florida. (Bush previously promised that his plan would result in 4 percent economic growth, a figure economists consider fantastical.) Several mainstream media outlets claimed that Bush’s proposal was a “populist” reform that “hits Wall Street,” despite widespread criticism that it amounted to a “budget-wrecking gift to the wealthy.” A September 14 article by Vox Executive Editor Matt Yglesias blasted media outlets for glossing over the glaring flaws in Bush’s tax reform proposals and economic promises, warning that they were repeating the same mistakes made during the 2000 campaign, when George W. Bush ran on a similar platform and received lax vetting. [Media Matters, 6/17/15; 9/10/15; 9/14/15]