Trump could bludgeon DeSantis over past support for toxic GOP tax plan
Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis / Gage Skidmore

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and several other Republicans who could potentially challenge former President Donald Trump for the 2024 Republican nomination have a possible liability in their past, reported Semafor on Tuesday: their past support for a controversial plan known as Fair Tax.

The proposal, kicked around in libertarian circles for decades, calls to abolish the IRS and replace all federal taxes with a 30 percent tax on retail sales and virtually all forms of private spending. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) promised his caucus' far-right flank that a bill to implement this proposal would get a committee vote as part of a deal to get him elected to the top job — but even he has made clear he doesn't support the idea. Even top GOP anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist has dismissed the proposal as "suicidal."

And yet, as Joseph Zeballos-Roig and Shelby Talcott reported, many GOP challengers to Trump have endorsed the idea in the past.

"Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a founding member of the House Freedom Caucus, repeatedly sponsored a Fair Tax bill while in Congress. The legislation came up at times in Democratic attacks during his first run for governor," said the report. "Nikki Haley, who is expected to announce a run later this month, said in 2012 she would 'support the Fair Tax and any reform that would eliminate income tax' in South Carolina as governor. Former Vice President Mike Pence was a vocal proponent of a Fair Tax in his House days, and bragged that he was willing to take the political heat that came with his support."

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President Joe Biden has had a political field day with the proposal, saying Republicans want to “raise taxes on the middle class by taxing thousands of everyday items from groceries to gas, while cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans.”

But according to the report, even Trump himself could come out against the proposal and use his intraparty rivals' past support for it against them.

"A source close to Donald Trump said that his rivals would have to 'answer for what they supported and what they've advocated in the past,' including a Fair Tax bill 'that ultimately increases the tax rate on the people who are hurting the most under Biden's economy,'" said the report. "The Trump campaign is expected to release a video outlining the former president’s own tax position soon and the source said the former president 'would not support a tax that ultimately gives a higher tax rate to lower and middle-income Americans.'"

In addition to being controversial, experts have criticized the Fair Tax scheme as not even economically feasible. Bruce Bartlett, a former adviser to President Ronald Reagan, argued in a 2005 paper that the proposal would be impossible to enforce, constitutionally questionable, and would depress wages for American households, among other problems.