the national interest

Anti-Tax Lobby Seeks to Purge Democracy Supporters From the Republican Party

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag

The Club for Growth bills itself as “the leading free-enterprise advocacy group in the nation,” whose mission is to “exert maximum pressure on lawmakers to vote like free-market, limited government conservatives.” Politico reports that its newest campaign is to support primary challenges against two prominent House Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump over his unsuccessful putsch.

Perhaps this sounds confusing. What does “free enterprise” have to do with taking revenge on Republicans who didn’t want Trump to seize an unelected second term? Indeed, the two Republican targets of the campaign, Liz Cheney and Anthony Gonzalez, are fervent advocates of precisely the model of ossified Reaganite anti-government dogma the Club for Growth promotes.

What this intervention illustrates is how deeply intertwined the supply-side movement has become with Donald Trump and his authoritarian style.

The professional conservative movement intelligentsia has three wings: foreign-policy hawks, the religious right, and economic conservatives. (The latter category has been dominated for decades by supply-siders, who have made low tax rates for the rich the party’s highest priority.) All these factions had reasons to distrust Trump, but they responded to his rise in different ways. The hawks were the most horrified with Trump, and many of them left the party permanently. Social conservatives mostly accepted him, though a handful of luminaries (like Bush administration veterans Peter Wehner and Michael Gerson) defected.

The supply-siders gave Trump enthusiastic support. Anti-tax evangelists Art Laffer, Lawrence Kudlow, and Stephen Moore surrounded Trump and shaped his economic agenda. The Wall Street Journal editorial page purged numerous staffers who refused to get onboard after Trump consolidated control of the party.

The alliance between Trump and the supply-siders has a natural basis. Despite his populist rhetoric, Trump is a well-to-do heir who equates wealth with virtue and has a deep interest in minimizing his tax rates by any means necessary. What’s more, the supply-siders have an ingrained distrust for democracy exceeding that of any other conservative faction. After all, while social conservatives and defense hawks have regularly found ways to make their themes appeal to the public, cutting taxes for the rich has never been popular. From the standpoint of wealthy libertarians, democracy is a fundamental threat to liberty, because it enables the numerical majority to redistribute property from the economic minority.

Even during the immediate aftermath of the Capitol riot, when the entire Republican elite briefly entertained the notion of abandoning Trump wholesale, the supply-siders remained relatively unmoved. “It isn’t going to affect tax rates. How about monetary policy? Allow me to stay pure to my turf,” Laffer told the Washington Post, in a story that ran two days after the insurrection.

Politico’s story quotes the club’s president claiming Cheney and Gonzalez are “not good on the economic issues,” but fails to cite any specific issues. From a policy standpoint, it hardly matters to the Club for Growth whether Cheney and Gonzalez retain their seats, or are replaced by Trumpist challengers. They are all equally certain to support the party line on tax rates, social spending, and business regulation.

The actual stakes in this episode are the party’s willingness to support criminality and authoritarianism. The Trump impeachment smoked out some leading Republicans as lacking the necessary ardor. The Club for Growth has all the ideological support for upper-class tax cuts it needs. The only question they need to concern themselves with now is ensuring the whole party is hard enough to do whatever it takes to gain and hold power.

Anti-Tax Lobby Seeks to Purge Democracy Supporters From GOP