Jeb Bush and Grover Norquist are having a spat over taxes.
Norquist, the longtime anti-tax activist, said Friday at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference) that he expected the former Florida governor and potential 2016 candidate to sign his anti-tax pledge. Most Republicans, including virtually all the other GOP presidential contenders during their careers, signed it.
The written pledge to never raise the taxes of Americans makes a promise real, Norquist believes, although some who signed it in good faith have later chided Norquist for locking them into an ironclad commitment they never intended.
Jeb Bush, however, did not sign the Norquist pledge while governor of Florida (1999-2007), and neither did his father and brother during their political careers. And on Saturday Bush’s spokesperson shook things up a bit when she said Jeb Bush has no intention of signing the Norquist pledge or any other tax pledge if he seeks the 2016 GOP nomination.
“If Gov. Bush decides to move forward, he will not sign any pledges circulated by lobbying groups,” Kristy M. Campbell told ABC News.
To which Norquist retorted on Twitter, “Really? Jeb Bush thinks all American taxpayers (to whom the pledge is written) are a ‘lobbying group’?”
This could be intra-party squabbling except for one sticking point. President George H.W. Bush famously said, “Read my lips. No new taxes,” at the Republican National Convention in 1988 when he accepted the GOP nomination. That pronouncement publicly cemented his platform and helped him win the White House.
But it later came back to haunt him.
In 1990 during budget negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Congress to reduce the national deficit, Bush compromised as part of the deal and ultimately broke his tax pledge, which was gleefully exploited by opponents. Bush lost his reelection bid in 1992 to Bill Clinton.
Jeb Bush’s spokesperson said that during his years as Florida governor he did not raise taxes. He cut them each year for a total of over $19 billion in tax relief. “He does not support raising taxes and believes cutting taxes and reforming the tax code will lead to greater economic growth and more prosperity for Americans,” Campbell told ABC News.
Norquist rejected that argument on Twitter: “Those who refuse to sign, raise taxes when pushed hard enough by spenders.”
He added this general comment for good measure: “Memo to Politicians waffling on taxes: A tax hike is a pay cut for the American people. A tax cut is a pay hike for the American people.”
Maybe Norquist, who has never been elected to any office, is making something of nothing. Maybe he’s trying to revive his pledge, puff himself up or grab a little free post-CPAC publicity. Maybe this is his way of judging the crowded GOP field.
One thing is for sure: Norquist at CPAC took time during a media interview to deliver some serious advice for the presumptive candidate. If you really want to make progress toward 2016, reintroduce yourself to Americans, Norquist advised Jeb. You have name recognition, but it is both a positive and a negative. So tell people where you want to go and what you want to do. Why? You’re “out of shape” as a candidate, haven’t held elective office in nearly 10 years and most Americans don’t have a clue what you did in Florida as governor.
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