By Jon Keller

BOSTON (CBS) – Most New England senators are a clear “no” vote on the GOP tax bill. So we haven’t seen the onslaught of TV ads from special-interest groups pouring into swing states in the run-up to the vote.

But when you examine them, you can see how the debate over the motivations behind the bill and its potential impact may be paving the way for approval despite opinion polls showing strong public opposition.

“Why are Republicans in Congress trying to pass a bill that would give billions more to the richest?” asks one ad from a group opposing the measure. Cut to an animated scale with working people on one end easily outweighed by wealthy donors on the other. “OK, so we know why,” says the voice-over.

That’s the predictable theme of most of the ads opposing the plan, a focus on an image of Republicans as water-carriers for the rich.

Others try to make an issue of Trump’s honesty and the degree to which he’ll personally benefit from the tax cuts. In one, a Trump impersonator is perched on a golf cart merrily tweeting away, then suddenly stopping. Cue the voice-over: “When its time for Trump to explain why his tax plan gives a big cut to the wealthy, why is this president suddenly at a loss for words?”

And a few of the opposition ads keep the focus on policy, with a more subtle jab at alleged GOP hypocrisy. “Did your senator or congressman get elected by talking tough on the national debt?” asks one. “Keep your word, tax cuts shouldn’t add to the national debt.”

But in some ads supporting the tax plan, it’s the opponents who are made out to be hypocrites.

One features a middle-class couple speaking directly to the camera. “During election years, politicians make tons of promises. Then they seem to forget about people like us,” they say.

And many of these ads attempt to turn voter cynicism and the opponents’ own arguments against them.

Perhaps the most effective – a spot featuring a young woman who says: “People are sick of politics, I am too. But fixing our broken tax system isn’t about politics, it’s about helping people. It means the powerful, the well connected, the politicians, they’ll stop benefitting from a rigged system.”

If that reminds you of a Bernie Sanders stump speech from last year, that’s no accident. The populist appeal of the Trump message, now internalized by the GOP establishment, helped pull off his upset win last fall. And it might be working again.


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