(CNN)When Republicans passed their tax overhaul bill late last year, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell all but guaranteed the controversial cuts would be a political winner in 2018.
Trump is drowning out both the GOP and Democratic tax messages
"If we can't sell this to the American people," McConnell said, "we ought to go into another line of work."
Four months later, the tax package -- headlined by a drastic reduction to corporate rates and smaller, temporary cuts for lower earners -- is stuck in the mud, with a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll this week showing public opinion trending toward ... indifference.
According to the survey, the share of those with "no opinion" about the new tax law has actually grown since January, from 30% to 34%. Meanwhile, both opposition and support are diminishing.
Twenty-seven percent said the bill, signed by President Donald Trump in December, is a "total good idea," down from 30% in January. At the same time, the 36% who describe it as a "total bad idea" is a tick less than the 38% who said the same a few months ago.
That's a far cry from what Republican leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who announced last week that he will retire at the end of the year, predicted back in December.
"When (the bill) gets in place, when people see their paychecks getting bigger in February because withholding tables have adjusted to reflect their tax cuts, when businesses are keeping more of what they earn, when they can write off their spending and hire more people, that's going to change its popularity, I am convinced," Ryan said, predicting a spike in approval ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.
The simple explanation for the declining returns resides in the White House. Data on searches provided by Google shows that last year, before and just after the bill's passage, searches around tax cuts and tax reform were high. Since then, they've lowered to a simmer, with searches around trade and tariffs, which Trump has made a top economic focus, skyrocketing.
Still, it might be early for Republican lawmakers to start leafing through the classifieds. Trump's command of the news cycle -- his amping up the prospects of a trade war, to say nothing of actual war in Syria, renewed Twitter attacks on former FBI Director James Comey and the latest in the Stormy Daniels saga -- has also knocked Democrats off message.
Despite the low levels of support for the tax cuts, Republicans are now favored, according to the NBC/WSJ poll, as the better party to handle the economy. The GOP is also the preferred steward of the federal budget deficit, 28% to 22%, despite a recent report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office showing that the tax cuts and recent budget deal will cause it to rise faster than expected.
The best prospect, however unlikely, for putting taxes back front-and-center nationally would be yet another vote in Congress. There is currently discussion among Republicans around new legislation that would make permanent the temporary cuts for individuals included in the original plan.
But that would entail some risk for Republicans in swing districts and require support from Democrats, who have routinely described the tax package as a "scam." Unless the GOP is willing to roll back some of the newly enshrined corporate cuts, it's difficult to envision a scenario where the parties align to advance a new bill -- and just as tough to imagine either party seeing much political gain from this massive rewriting of the American tax code.