Governor Bruce Rauner, Donald Trump Credit: Sun-Times file photos

If you want to know why Bruce Rauner doesn’t know what to say about  Donald Trump, consider the fallout from the president’s latest Twitter war juxtaposed with POTUS’s proposed capital gains tax cut.

One of which got a ton of publicity, the other almost none at all.

The tweet storm has to do with LeBron James, superstar basketball player, and CNN news anchor Don Lemon.

For reasons unknown to rational human beings, Trump felt compelled to fire up his cell phone at roughly 10:30 PM Friday to tweet the following:

“Lebron [sic] James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!”

Before you knew, the tweet had ignited a firestorm, with everyone from Melania Trump to Michael Jordan weighing in to defend LeBron James, blast Trump, or both.

It was a typical Trump tweet. He frequently calls prominent black people dumb—it’s his way of letting his true believers know he’s unafraid to venture where normal politicians would not dare to go.

He throws in the line about liking Michael Jordan to suggest he’s not a racist ’cause he likes some black guys. As though anyone’s fooled.

In the aftermath, what’s a Republican like Rauner supposed to do? If he criticizes Trump, he looks timid or “politically correct” to the pro-Trump faction now roiling Republican politics.

(They’re already mad at Rauner for having signed HB 40, the abortion-rights bill.)

But if Rauner defends Trump, he risks alienating the civilized part of the world that doesn’t think it’s cool for a sitting president to make like a racist buffoon.

In this category, I’m hoping we’re talking about at least a majority of the American voters—especially those in swing states like Wisconsin and Michigan. But at the very least it includes many suburban voters that Rauner needs to win if he has any chance of defeating J.B. Pritzker in November’s election.

Rauner’s challenge is that there are too many Democrats and moderate independents in Illinois to keep him from going full-on Trump like, say, Ron DeSantis, the Republican running for governor in Florida.

DeSantis recently ran a TV commercial with the general theme that he’s the biggest Trump brownnoser in the world—and proud of it!

It features DeSantis reading chapters of Trump’s autobiography to his young child, then helping the kid “build a wall” made of building blocks, while reminding everyone that the president has endorsed him.

Not surprisingly, DeSantis has surged to the top of the polls in the Republican gubernatorial primary.

Unable to go all the way and do the full DeSantis, Rauner does the next best thing—embracing Trump’s vice president.

Governor Bruce Rauner introduced vice president Mike Pence at the Westin O'Hare in Rosemont Friday afternoon.
Governor Bruce Rauner introduced vice president Mike Pence at the Westin O’Hare in Rosemont Friday afternoon.Credit: Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Think about this. Mike Pence is a far-right ideologue when it comes to gays, women, and reproductive rights.

Yet because Pence is disciplined enough to refrain from tweeting racist bile, Rauner felt it was OK to take the stage with him at a recent fund-raising event and call him “one of the greatest public servants in America today—one of the greatest leaders in American history.”

Lincoln, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and—Mike Pence?

Watching Rauner dance a political boogaloo around Trump is almost enough to make me feel sorry for him. As usual, the key word being almost.

Of course, in other ways, Trump’s exceedingly useful to Rauner—and that brings me to the capital gains tax cut.

Trump’s proposing to give a $100 billion tax cut to America’s wealthiest people by changing the way capital gains get calculated. (A capital gain is the profit from selling an asset, like stock or property. )

Say you purchased $100,000 worth of stock in 1980 and sold it today for $1 million. Under the current rules, you’d pay a capital gains tax on $900,000 worth of profit.

Trump wants to adjust the original purchase price for inflation. To go back to our example, since $100,000 in 1980 is worth about $300,000 today, the president’s proposal would lower the taxable gain to $700,000. That amounts to a $40,000 tax break on this one deal, according to the New York Times.

Add up all the breaks on all the stock transactions, and eventually we’re talking about a tax break for the wealthy of about $100 billion or so.

This is a twofold victory for Rauner Republicans.

One, it means greater tax breaks for them.

And two, it means less money for government. As I’ve written before, one of great missions of Republican “free-market” ideologues like Rauner, the Koch brothers, and Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform is to starve government of the money it needs to function.

To quote Norquist: “The goal is to . . . get government down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”

Not surprisingly, Norquist is a key advocate of Trump’s capital gains cut proposal.

Of course, there are consequences to starving the federal government.
The less money the feds have, the more taxes municipalities and states must impose to compensate for federal cuts in law enforcement, road repair, education, etc.

The roads aren’t going to repair themselves, people.

In short, look for your property taxes to continue to go up even as Rauner promises to keep them down.

Trump’s capital gains proposal is such a blatant break for the rich and such a bad deal for the rest of us that only a politician unconventional enough to start a Twitter war with LeBron James would dare to try and get away with it.

Trump may act like an idiot—but he’s a useful idiot. Especially for Republicans like Rauner.