The Washington Examiner

Paul Bedard


When he was running for the Indiana Senate seat that he would eventually win, Republican businessman Mike Braun handed off the day-to-day operation of his auto parts operation to one of his sons.

At a time in the 2018 campaign when the GOP had shifted its message away from the economy and to immigration, his son came to him with an idea about using savings from the Trump tax cut to expand employee benefits, and he wanted to give the president credit.

Photo of the Washington Examiner and its photo of Senator Braun in the article

“He said, ‘Dad, I’m so happy that tax reform came through.’ And he said, ‘I’d like to do some things.’ And I said, ‘What do you have in mind?’ He said, ‘I’d like to enhance 401k benefits and I’d like to lower family healthcare plans by $1,400 bucks a year.’” Braun said, “‘OK, wow, that’s great. I wish I had thought of it.’ He said, ‘The other thing is I’d like to put it in the company memo … that it’s due to tax reform.’”

His dad paused and even asked his son to run it by his brother, who Braun figured would kill the idea to cite the 2017 tax cut.

But Braun changed his mind and told his son to go with the original plan. “I said, ‘Put it in the company memo that this is due to tax reform. We’ve got to be proud of it.’”

That episode energized Braun in his campaign and has refocused his and others’ efforts to help President Trump win re-election on economic issues.

“We, as conservatives, have got to make the case that tax reform is working for everyone,” Braun said in an interview. “You’re going to hear me talking a lot about that,” he said.

While Trump’s focus on illegal immigration in the 2018 campaign helped in states he campaigned in, several pollsters said the shift away from the economy and tax cuts generally hurt the party’s pitch for continued domination in Washington.

Longtime GOP pollster David Winston called it a “missed opportunity” in a post-campaign analysis.

“The post-election data show the Republicans’ economic message was seen positively by a large majority of voters, more positively than the Democrats’ message. Republicans can take heart that their economic policies not only seem to be working; but when voters understood what was in the tax bill, they favored Republicans by a comfortable margin. The problem was only 32 percent of this year’s voters knew about the key provision in this important legislation or how it would positively impact them,” said the analysis.

And Winston is encouraging the GOP to return to bread-and-butter issues in 2020. “Republicans should refocus on the economy, their economic record, and solutions to household issues as first steps toward rebuilding their majority coalition for 2020,” he said.

Braun and the expanded caucus of business leaders in the Senate and House are itching to do that.

“It is our mistake as a party and it’s our mistake as business owners and entrepreneurs, if we don’t keep that in the limelight,” said the newly minted senator.

Braun said that, in 2020, the focus will be even more scattered, since there will be lots of attention on Democrats running against Trump. And, he added, the economy might not be as strong as it is today.

“We’ve got to get it right in the next two years,” he said.

What’s more, he said that more Republicans have to return to the economic message that has worked for the GOP since former President Ronald Reagan’s days.

“Somewhere along the line there have to be other disciples picking it up, and I intend to be one of them to the extent that I can get them to listen,” he said.