Weeks before other Republicans are expected to announce their presidential candidacies, Ted Cruz has already injected a very nasty little virus into the right-wing primary process: the ridiculous idea that the IRS should be abolished.
While some have been quick to conclude this idea indicates Cruz is truly stupid, I don't think he is. You just have to understand that the real intent of the abolish-the-IRS campaign pledge cannot be publicly stated.
As The Washington Post's Catherine Rampell notes, the IRS is a cash-flow-positive agency, generating around $255 in income for every $1 assigned to it in federal funding. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities adds that although every $1 spent on the IRS enforcement division generates about $6 in recovered cash, Republican-backed budget cuts have reduced the agency's enforcement staff from 50,400 in 2010 to 42,800 in 2014.
Putting aside the fact that Cruz has repeatedly gotten basic facts about the IRS wrong (such as claiming there are 110,000 IRS "agents," when there's really somewhere around 20,500), the Texas senator claims that entire IRS can be replaced by a flat tax that can be filled out on a "postcard." But he has yet to discuss what kind of agency would replace the IRS to actually review, process, and enforce compliance with the new system. That's intentional. He doesn't want one; he's fundamentally opposed to the entire notion of progressive taxation itself
No IRS means no enforcement capability and thus massive tax fraud. No IRS means a dramatic collapse in federal revenue. No IRS even dooms his own proposed tax reform, since no one will be around to actually implement it. These are all also intentional.
These are features, not flaws. If rich right-wingers are better able to successfully break more tax laws with even less scrutiny, then they're just job creators struggling under the yoke of socialist oppression. If federal tax revenues collapse, then that'll just give Congress an excuse to finally cut off all those parasitic welfare programs and privatize more services. If no IRS means the federal government can't actually set up or implement his radically retrogressive tax plan, then whatever. It's just intended as presenteeism anyways.
Cruz is aggressively advancing the Republican agenda set by Grover Norquist back in 2001: to reduce the federal government to "the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." Never mind that this agenda is, well, manifestly evil, designed to entrench a ruling plutocratic elite and further reduce the power of the powerless.
In an age where most people agree that the rich should pay their fair share in taxes, cloaking this agenda with faux-populist attacks on a historically disliked federal agency that is frankly an easy target makes perfect sense.
By entering the primaries so early and doing so in an incredibly reactionary way, Cruz has already succeeded in pushing the GOP presidential contest much further to the right. Some kind of dramatic change to the IRS that goes further than already-disastrous budget cuts is now firmly on the GOP table. Cruz may have little chance of winning, but the past decade has seen many far-right ideas infiltrate the mainstream. Abolishing the IRS is exactly the kind of right-wing soundbite that could become very dangerous if Republicans somehow simultaneously sleaze their way into a congressional supermajority and the White House.
It's easy to dismiss Cruz as a know-nothing idiot. But he's stupid like a fox, and the henhouse is America's progressive tax system. We should be a little more worried.