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Corker is wrong. Trump is the only one in the GOP who can lead tax reform fight

  • Senator Bob Corker and President Trump are bickering in public again, which is embarrassing for everyone.
  • But one thing worth noting is Corker's call for President Trump to let Congress lead the battle for tax reform.
  • On that point, Corker is terribly wrong and an example of just how out of touch the establishment GOP still is.
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)
Joshua Roberts | Reuters
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN)

It's hard to get past the nastiness of the still-brewing and very public bickering between President Donald Trump and Senator Bob Corker.

Now, I'm no fan of the endless media dissection of each tit for tat tweet or soundbite. But there is something in this spat that deserves a little more analysis because it goes to the heart of the tax reform campaign that is the top legislative goal for the Trump administration and the GOP.

That is, Corker's comment to NBC News Tuesday morning where he said he hoped the White House would "step aside" and let the Senate and House tax-writing committees carry out the normal process of crafting a tax bill.

In short, Corker is wrong.

He's wrong for two reasons, one of which has nothing to do with Donald Trump personally and one that very much does.

The first reason is that it doesn't matter who the president is, the president is always going to be more important than Congress, any congressional committee, and certainly more than any single congressman or senator. With legislation like this that will affect every single American taxpayer and beyond, the only nationally elected politician in the battle needs to lead the fight.

"Politics was a nasty game long before President Trump came around, and getting things accomplished in the political arena requires a tougher and more determined front than the Republican Party has been willing to put up for a long time."

Otherwise, the bill takes on an aura of mystery, backroom dealing, and the usual confusion that comes with today's run-of-the-mill 1,000 pages or more legislative bills in Washington. This is a president's job, period.

Now, there's plenty to be said about how President Trump needs to improve the way he's been fighting. Yes, he's been on the mark with the decision to hold campaign-style rallies across the country for tax reform, showing an enthusiasm and energy that even exceeds the efforts previous presidents like Kennedy, Reagan, and George W. Bush who also worked hard for tax cuts.

On the other hand, President Trump must start doing a little less cheerleading and a little more reasoning on a personal level with the American people. Talking more about what Americans can do with the extra income he's promising from tax reform is a good place to start, That's what Presidents Kennedy and Bush did so well.

There's no reason why President Trump can't do this too. Like any president who really wants tax cuts to gain the crucial middle class support they need to pass, President Trump must begin to talk the talk of how added income (the Trump administration is promising that tax cuts for employers will lead to $4000 in "wage growth" for the average family - though that's not surprisingly been disputed by several noted economists) can lead to a home improvement, new car, family vacation, or just the purchase of a new washer and dryer.

But there's an added factor unique to President Trump that personally makes him crucial to the tax reform in a way Kennedy, Reagan, Bush, and certainly people like Corker never could be.

He fights.

His bombastic behavior and seeming inability to let any insult against him just go unanswered is often seen as a negative by the so-called experts. But it's a big reason why he connected with so many voters in 2016 as it set him apart from an increasingly reserved and ineffective establishment GOP in Congress. Yes, so much of that combative behavior, as we're seeing right now in the dust up with Corker, can be embarrassing and it certainly plays a big role in President Trump's still weak approval ratings. But politics was a nasty game long before President Trump came around, and getting things accomplished in the political arena requires a tougher and more determined front than the Republican Party has been willing to put up for a long time.

And while we can get nostalgic about how people like President Reagan disarmed his angry critics with humor and charm, we have to realize that was more than 30 years ago in a very different country and a very different political era. No one ever plausibly criticized John McCain or Mitt Romney of being anything but charming and civil in the 2008 and 2012 elections, respectively, but we all know how that ended for the Republicans on Election Day.

No, nastiness isn't the answer. But tenacity is, and President Trump has it in a way that makes those who don't have it feel uncomfortable. Speed is also of the essence, as House Speaker Paul Ryan is now saying he wants the House to pass a tax bill by Thanksgiving. And Corker's call to leave this to the often plodding committees doesn't seem conducive to that kind of pace.

Right now, that tenacity gives the Republicans the best chance at getting the tax reform they've said they've wanted for decades.

But either way, national tax reform is a president's job and always will be. Members of Congress who think otherwise are either too full of themselves or painfully ignorant of history.

My money's on a little bit of both.

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

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