When President George H.W. Bush broke his ‘no new taxes’ pledge, he changed the Republican Party and American politics forever.
Bush, who died Friday night at 94, had been trailing opponent Michael Dukakis by as much as 17 points. He made the pledge as part of his effort to draw a contrast with an opponent he wanted to define as a Massachusetts tax and spend liberal. It worked and helped him win in a landslide.
But then, in 1990, under pressure to strike a budget deal with the Democratic-controlled Congress, Bush relented and agreed to hike taxes.
American politics and policy has never been the same.
The sense of betrayal aided Newt Gingrich’s rise to power. As the number two Republican in the House minority at the time, he broke with Bush and led a rebellion against the budget deal. Though the deal ended up passing anyway, his opposition helped rally conservatives behind him, and it fueled his eventual ascent to the speakership when Republicans took control of the House four years later.
Joshua Mercer is a co-founder of CatholicVote.org, where he serves as Political Director. Mercer previously served as Washington Correspondent for the National Catholic Register and Chairman for Students for Life of America. He lives in Michigan with his wife and six children.