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Tax reform is just another deck chair on the GOP Titanic

  • All the Republican changes to the tax reform bill are the same as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.
  • The GOP lacks clear leadership from the White House on taxes and its congressional leaders are too short sighted and cowardly.
  • The GOP Titanic hit its proverbial iceberg after it ignored its based soon after wining the 2014 midterm elections.
Undated artist impression showing the 14 April 1912 shipwreck of the British luxury passenger liner Titanic off the Nova-Scotia coasts, during its maiden voyage.
OFF | AFP | Getty Images
Undated artist impression showing the 14 April 1912 shipwreck of the British luxury passenger liner Titanic off the Nova-Scotia coasts, during its maiden voyage.

The Republican Party can't get out of its own way in the continuing tax reform debacle, and now it simply looks like it's rearranging the deck chairs on a political Titanic. The deck chairs are all those contradictory, confusing, and badly-marketed GOP tax plans. And no matter how that plan might eventually be arranged, the GOP ship is still going down.

It's going down under the rushing water of a tax plan that still insists on creating new winners and losers with eliminated deductions for state and local taxes, medical expenses, adoption, and even alimony. Don't bother to obsess over every minor change. Remember that the deck chairs have already been rearranged furiously with the Border Adjustment Tax and the reduction of tax free contributions to 401(k) accounts, for example, already tried and scrapped.

Just know this: As long as the tax reform bill doesn't simplify things with tax cuts for everyone, it won't stand a chance of passing. And to do that, the GOP needs a captain who can set out a clear course. What we're all seeing now is what happens when Congress doesn't have a good enough leader to keep it focused on a national goal. Without that, each locally elected member simply starts a mutiny, looking out for his or her own constituents.

The Republican ship of state hasn't had a courageous, forward looking, or even competent captain in a very long time.

But here's when the GOP Titanic hit its proverbial iceberg. At what should have been the Republicans' great moment of triumph in a maiden voyage after winning the 2014 midterm elections and control of both houses of Congress, House Speaker John Boehner and Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell got overconfident and made the disastrous decision to immediately spurn the voters who provided their great victory. They did that by preemptively promising not to shut down the government in any effort to defund or strip down Obamacare. In so doing, they gave away the key constitutional negotiating tool against the White House.

"The Republican ship of state hasn't had a courageous, forward looking, or even competent captain in a very long time."

The anger from the conservative base packed all the punch of a direct hit. The first clear damage came on Boehner's side, as he was ousted by a conservative GOP revolt in his own caucus less than a year after that 2014 election win.

But the real anger became much clearer with Donald Trump's successful run for president that ran over establishment Republicans in primary after primary. Candidate Trump's brutal and blunt campaigning style was an asset instead of the liability it usually would be under normal circumstances.

That's because the GOP ship was already sinking and powerless to do anything about it. It's important to remember that even though candidate Trump was officially a Republican candidate who won the White House, the actual Republicans in Congress lost seats in the 2016 election. In essence, President Trump defeated both the GOP and the Democrats. But with his lack of specific leadership in the Obamacare repeal and tax reform efforts, he's fumbled much of that hard-earned power.

Indeed, President Trump could have become the Republican Party's new captain when he took office in January. But the Trump team hasn't offered enough of a clear lead. President Trump has been energetically promoting the tax reform idea, but he's allowed the Congressional GOP to craft way too much of the bill so far. And the result has been this mess.

So again, this ship is going down. Republicans trail the Democrats in the generic congressional ballot polls by historically high margins for this stage in the election cycle.

Of course Democrats have their own problems (views of the Democratic Party in a national poll published just this week are at a 25-year low) but Trump's weak poll numbers and the growing number of Democrats promising to impeach him is a life preserver of sorts. If the Democrats win control of at least the House in 2018 make no mistake, they won't renege on that key promise like McConnell and Boehner did to their base an instant after the GOP won Congress in 2014.

As much as impeaching or even removing President Trump from office would make millions of Americans happy, it would also severely anger millions of Americans. And oh, we'd still be without any solutions on taxes, Obamacare, gun violence, etc.

In that sense, we're all on the Titanic right now.

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

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