Speaking at the Faith & Freedom Conference in Washington, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour warned Republican voters on Friday that they could not afford to apply strict purity tests to their presidential candidates, many of whom have raised hackles in conservative circles for various departures from the party line. Wading into very dangerous waters, he told reporters that even increasing taxes — the ultimate Republican heresy — should not be a dealbreaker.
Speaking at the Faith & Freedom Conference in Washington, Barbour told the audience of social conservatives that they “can’t expert [the nominee] to be pure.”
“Winning is about us sticking together to achieve the main thing,” he said. “Odds are, whoever you choose is not going to win the nomination, there’s so many of them. I’m going to fight for my person, but when its over I’m going to support the person that’s going to beat Barack Obama.”
He repeated the message to reporters afterwards and praised the Tea Party movement for following his advice by working largely within the GOP.
“If you had to agree with Haley Barbour on every issue it would be a mighty small party,” he said. “That’s just a fact, and we need people to understand that at the end of the day, Reagan was right. A person who agrees with you 80% of the time is your friend and ally, not some 20% traitor.”
In a surprising example, he hinted to reporters after his speech that Republicans might even need to accept a nominee or president who backs raising taxes. While Barbour said he personally opposed such a move, he made clear that everything needed to be on the table in negotiations with Democrats.
“For me, raising taxes would be something that is such bad policy and so harmful to the economy at a time when economic growth should be our first priority, that I would consider that as something I would not be for,” he said. “However, if we nominate somebody and that person, in order to achieve lot and lots of other good things made that deal? I wouldn’t like it, but there’s nothing that is not negotiable if you get enough in return.”
Given that Republican politicians are virtually unanimous in opposing tax raises under any circumstances, even his subtle suggestion that he might be willing to bend could be considered bold — especially given that Democrats are currently insisting on tax increases as part of any major deficit deal. Barbour invoked Reagan again, noting that the GOP icon cut plenty of deals with the Democratic House — including some that raised taxes.
“Reagan compromised on everything; he had no choice,” Barbour said. “So I’m not going to stand here and say just because I disagree with something, if our candidate for president or if our president when we elect one decides that this compromise, giving up x in return for a, b, c, d, e, f, g is worth it, that I’m not going to go out and lambaste him or her for doing that.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.