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Trump is going to have to use Twitter a lot smarter to win on tax reform

  • The Democrats got an assist from top entertainers like Jimmy Kimmel in explaining the health-care bill to the masses.
  • The GOP is using a research paper by White House economist Kevin Hassett to sell their pitch on tax reform.
  • The White House needs to get more personal and make their arguments hipper and more social media friendly.
  • President Trump knows how to use Twitter to win elections, but using social media to get bills passed requires a different skill set.

White House chief economist Kevin Hassett has just published a new paper explaining the Trump administration's push for corporate tax cuts. Among other things, it says that a corporate tax cut to 20 percent would boost American paychecks and the U.S. gross domestic product.

Well that settles it. We all know that all it takes for a major economic or tax policy to be embraced by the public and sail through the congressional approval process is a solid paper or two written by a top economist. So, President Donald Trump's tax reform plan is in the clear.

Just kidding.

This is 2017, and that means we're way past the point where a cogent economic argument can win the day in American politics. It's debatable that there ever was such a time when it could, but a quick scan of history and a brief consideration of human nature should disabuse anyone of the notion that policy papers make a real difference.

Now to be sure, it's not a bad thing that the administration has made a data-based case for the tax reform plan, even if that case is disputed by many. Not only is this a matter of ethics, but presenting a winning argument needs at least some level of coherence for it to work.

But the reality is that it's not the economists, academics, and wonks the Trump team needs to convince, but a critical mass of the American people. And right now, the polls show the American people are not so hot for corporate tax cuts. A considerable amount of the news media will also be solidly against the plan, and that is not even a comment on the anti-Trump movement. Remember the anti-tax cut movement began with hard core fervor well before President Trump's time in politics.

"We know President Trump is comfortable with Twitter but he'll need to use it better to appeal to the tax reform argument broadly as opposed to using it for personal attacks."

Obviously, President Trump understands a lot of these realities as he's already been barnstorming around the country pushing for the plan and even pressuring some red state Democrats in the Senate to get on board. That's a new approach, but the White House and the rest of the Republicans who want to pass this plan will need to play this game by the 2017 media rules. That means plenty of emotionally-driven, camera-friendly arguments that can be seen and shared quickly and easily.

In short, the Trump team is going to have to play the social media/meme game, and play it well.

You know how it goes on social media. People post a very short statement, a brief video, or a joke that hits the audience on a base and personal level like the way a stand-up comic does when he or she riffs on the news of the day. Funny memes, which are just still pictures with catchy captions on them, have a way of drowning out reasoned and detailed debate. But those are the breaks.

One of the Republicans' great weaknesses over the years has been their seeming inability to take their policy arguments down to the same level their opponents on the left have used for years. That doesn't mean the GOP candidates and leaders were debating politely and the Democrats weren't. Nastiness is no one party's exclusive weapon.

But Republicans never seem to be as hip or "in the now" when it comes to addressing the public discourse over the issues of the day. While the Democrats are getting an assist from top entertainers like Jimmy Kimmel in explaining the health-care bill to the masses, the Republicans are countering with... papers by Kevin Hassett.

Every attempt at health-care reform will fail until we face this one undeniable reality.
Source: The Jimmy Kimmel Show | YouTube
Every attempt at health-care reform will fail until we face this one undeniable reality.

You can see the problem.

The good news is that one simple argument that's easy to make on social media or anywhere else is that Americans know better how to spend their own money than the government. Moving on from there, the endless list of questionable things Washington spends our taxpayer money on can be the gift that keeps on giving. Every proverbial golden toilet and thousand-dollar hammer can go a long way toward painting a picture for the public.

To that end, President Trump has already started to warn certain Democrats who oppose the tax plan that they will regret it come election time. But that threat would work a lot better if the president focused more on the positives of the plan other than just mentioning that $4,000 number (that the average family will see a salary increase of $4,000 from corporate tax cuts). Like President John F. Kennedy did when he pushed tax cuts in 1963, President Trump should talk more about what ordinary families could buy with that extra money. It's important to note that JFK pulled that off when he talked about middle class families buying "new cars and conveniences" even though he came from such a wealthy background. That's the challenge President Trump faces here, but his appeal on a populist level to many Americans gives him a chance to succeed.

The trap for Trump and the Republicans is to get into a theoretical debate over whether that $4,000 raise promise will turn out to be true. The smart thing to do is to start to depict the Democrats and wary Republicans as politicians who aren't sure whether Americans need that $4,000 raise or think that Washington deserves/needs that money more than ordinary people. The more President Trump invokes the American people and their concerns, and the less he makes this tax-reform push sound like a personal vendetta, the better.

We know President Trump is comfortable with Twitter but he'll need to use it better to appeal to the tax reform argument broadly as opposed to using it for personal attacks. He can start with that "$4,000 raise" phrase and make as ubiquitous as "Make America Great Again."

Donald Trump, Tweeter-in-Chief.
Getty Images
Donald Trump, Tweeter-in-Chief.

His failure to make the health-coverage argument anything more than a personal fight with Congress led to the failure of the Obamacare repeal and replacement bill fight. The public never really heard a positive spin on any detail of the Republican bills, and that was a fatal flaw. In the 2016 election, where President Trump was simply in a "me vs. them" battle, he won. But the battle over a policy is different and requires a different kind of strategy.

The bottom line right now is that President Trump, the Republicans, and every prominent free market advocate for tax cuts are doing a poor job of winning over the public. Facebook, Twitter, Saturday Night Live, and the late night talk shows are the main arena, and not just the supporting actors anymore.

President Trump and the other tax reform advocates need to find a way to play and win a policy debate in this new arena, and soon.

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

For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.