Trump's focus on jobs could give him a tax reform win

Key Points
  • The word "jobs" has been largely absent in American politics lately.
  • President Trump wisely focused on job creation at all times in his tax reform speech Wednesday.
  • And his mention of the child-care hurdle for job creation was a master stroke.
Trump: We will export our goods, not our jobs

In his speech kicking off a push for tax reform on Wednesday, President Trump repeatedly used a four-letter word that has been stunningly absent from American politics in recent years: Jobs.

For decades, promising jobs or at least touting policies pitched as job friendly was the bread and butter for politicians from both parties. But it seems like the push for more American jobs has taken a back seat to other issues in the last few elections.

For Democrats, other issues like promoting and defending Obamacare and an endless stream of identity politics issues seem to have taken precedence since 2008. And before that, resistance to the continued war in Iraq was the top issue promoted by Rep. Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats when they won the midterm elections in 2006.

Republicans focused heavily on an anti-terror message following the 9/11 attacks, and rode that to a midterm election win in 2002 and a re-election win for President George W. Bush in 2004. Jobs and the economy definitely took more of the center stage with the Trump campaign, but he, too, gave at least as much focus to illegal immigration and national security throughout his run.

What could possibly be more bipartisan than allowing Americans to keep more of what they earn and creating an environment for real job and wage growth in the country that we love so much?
President Trump in speech touting tax reform on Wednesday in Springfield, Mo.

That changed Wednesday as Trump's tax-reform speech, which was light on details but made a strong case for tax reform, kept going back to promises that cutting business taxes and simplifying the tax code would lead to more job creation for the middle class. He made that connection right in the first sentence of his speech and went from there.

Trump said that if the U.S. doesn't change it's tax system, "jobs and our country cannot take off the way they should — and it could be much worse than that."

Trump also took a few stabs at the difficult argument that cutting corporate rates would lead to job creation and benefits for people other than just the very rich. Many ordinary Americans and experts are still skeptical about that, but convincing the public of this theory is crucial to the entire effort and there's every sign from this speech that President Trump knows this.

"What could possibly be more bipartisan than allowing Americans to keep more of what they earn and creating an environment for real job and wage growth in the country that we love so much?" Trump asked.

Another key clue that the president understands the hurdles to job creation was his somewhat unexpected mention of the costs of child care and how that stands in a lot of Americans' way when it comes to the trade-off between a smallish paycheck and the price of day care.

Trump said it was important to lower taxes for middle-class families.

"This includes helping parents afford child care and the cost of raising a family," Trump said, adding that the issue was important to his daughter, Ivanka. "It's one of her real big beliefs."

Had he only talked about the costs businesses face that impede hiring, it wouldn't have been quite enough. But when he made the point of seeing the other side of the job creation problem from the would-be worker's point of view, President Trump took an important step forward.

He still has much work to do to convince the public — and his low approval ratings and fraying relationship with Congress won't help. But what will help is if President Trump and his surrogates keep their laser focus on jobs and also middle class pay. That's a winning ticket he can punch not only to get tax reform done, but also to give his presidency a very needed shot in the arm.

Commentary by Jake Novak, CNBC.com senior columnist. Follow him on Twitter @jakejakeny.

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