Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s response sounds especially Kempian. “We need to get two messages out loudly and early,” he said. “One, we are fighting for 100 percent of the vote, and secondly, our policies benefit every American who wants to pursue the American dream. Period. No exceptions.”
That’s a good first step, but most Republicans have yet to find a way to sell conservative economics as an opportunity engine.
In his time, Kemp led his party away from an austerity politics focused on balanced budgets, lower spending and higher taxes toward growth politics based on permanent tax rate cuts.
He modeled his 1976 tax bill on President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 proposals and adopted Kennedy’s “a rising tide lifts all boats” slogan.
Kennedy’s measure, enacted after his assassination, lowered top tax rates from 91 percent to 70 percent. The Kemp-Roth bill, adopted and pushed through by President Ronald Reagan, lowered the rate from 70 percent to 50 percent. And, in 1986, a Reagan tax reform bill backed by Kemp lowered the rate to 28 percent and eliminated dozens of breaks and deductions.
America’s growth problems are different today than they were in Kemp’s era. “Stagflation” — simultaneous high inflation and unemployment — were the problem then. Now it’s high unemployment and staggering debt.
Today, Kemp surely would favor drastic tax changes to cut rates and eliminate the loopholes drilled into the tax code since 1986.
He was never much in favor of cutting entitlements, but I’d guess that, like his former intern, Rep. Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., he’d favor reining them in to preserve social safety nets without encouraging dependency.
Kemp was never a believer in deep domestic spending cuts, either. Some of that needs to happen, but growth also requires spending on education, infrastructure and research.
The GOP today has a demographic problem, a messaging problem and — most of all — an attitude problem. The Kemp model could solve them all. He really believed in creating an opportunity society for everyone.