Jeb Bush’s remark that Ronald Reagan would be too moderate for today’s Republican Party earned an aggressive rebuke from the gatekeeper of the anti-tax orthodoxy that permeates the modern GOP.
“That’s foolish,” Grover Norquist, the architect of the bedrock never-raise-taxes pledge that nearly every Republican has signed, told TPM in an interview. “It’s stup—it’s bizarre.”
“There’s a guy who watched his father throw away his presidency on a 2:1 [ratio of spending cuts to tax increases] promise,” Norquist said of Bush. “And he thinks he’s sophisticated by saying that he’d take a 10:1 promise. He doesn’t understand — he’s just agreed to walk down the same alley his dad did with the same gang. And he thinks he’s smart. You walk down that alley, you don’t come out. You certainly don’t come out with 2:1 or 10:1.”
Bush told reporters at Bloomberg LP’s New York headquarters that “[b]ack to my dad’s time and Ronald Reagan’s time — they got a lot of stuff done with a lot of bipartisan support.” Reagan “would be criticized for doing the things that he did,” the former Florida governor said, blaming both sides for partisan gridlock.
“Ronald Reagan would have, based on his record of finding accommodation, finding some degree of common ground, as would my dad — they would have a hard time if you define the Republican Party — and I don’t — as having an orthodoxy that doesn’t allow for disagreement, doesn’t allow for finding some common ground,” Bush said, as quoted Monday by Buzzfeed.
After cutting taxes early in his presidency, Reagan proceeded to raise taxes many times in subsequent legislative compromises with Congress — a fact that is largely ignored by anti-tax conservatives who revere the former president.
Norquist — who Democrats frequently blame for incubating the GOP’s stubbornness on taxes — defended Reagan by arguing that he had to deal with a Democratic-led Congress and a GOP that hadn’t yet embraced his anti-government outlook.
“He didn’t have a Republican House committed to not raising taxes as president. And he had a pre-Reagan Senate. This is the Republican Party that Reagan created — that he envisioned,” said Norquist, who leads Americans For Tax Reform. “He didn’t get everything he wanted. But to argue that having moved the ball down the field as he did, and having created in his wake a Republican Party that represents his vision …”
The issue of taxes looms large as rates are set to rise across income groups next January when the Bush II tax cuts expire. Democrats insist they will not continue the lower rates for the wealthy or support a legislative deal to avoid the looming economic contraction unless new revenues are included.
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.