Former Pennsylvania Republican congressman Pat Toomey is president of the Club for Growth. In preparation for Wednesday night’s Republican debate, National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez checked in with him for some quick Republican field assessments.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Is Mike Huckabee really as bad as you say he is?
Pat Toomey: He’s every bit as bad, and you don’t have to just take our word for it. Jonah Goldberg, you and your fellow editors at National Review, Bob Novak, and John Fund — to name just a few conservative writers — agree that Mike Huckabee is no conservative. You can read the Club’s white paper on our website, but here is a quick summary of Huckabee’s worst hits. According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, the average Arkansas tax burden increased 47% over Huckabee’s tenure. Huckabee supported (in chronological order) a sales tax hike; gas and diesel fuel tax hikes; another sales tax hike; a cigarette tax hike; a nursing home bed tax; another sales tax hike; an income surcharge tax; a tobacco tax hike; taxes on Internet access; and higher beer taxes. Huckabee also oversaw a 50-percent increase in spending; happily signed a minimum wage increase and encouraged national Republicans to do the same; favors a national smoking ban, farm subsidies, and a federally mandated arts and music curriculum; opposes private school choice; and employs class-warfare and protectionist language on the campaign trail. Huckabee calls himself an economic conservative in the mold of Ronald Reagan, but the above list doesn’t sound like either.
You’ve been hitting him hard for months. Did you see this Iowa surge coming?
Toomey: We considered it a possibility, but our main motivation was to educate the public about the candidates’ various economic records. When Huckabee tried to sell his tax-and-spend record as a paragon of economic conservatism, we felt a responsibility to set the record straight.
Lopez: When are you going to start inundating Iowa with anti-Huckabee commercials?
Toomey: Stay tuned.
Lopez: Is the Club going to endorse anyone before the new year?
Toomey: Unlikely, but not something we’ve completely ruled out.
Lopez: Are you going to personally endorse anyone?
Toomey: I have no plan to do so at this point.
Lopez: How can the guy who ran against Arlen Specter even consider, say, Rudy?
Toomey: Let me be clear — I am speaking personally, not in my capacity as Club for Growth president.
Where do I begin? Arlen Specter does not contain a conservative bone in his body.
While Rudy Giuliani is a self-proclaimed liberal on many important social issues, he is a proven economic conservative, strong on foreign policy, tough on terrorism (perhaps the understatement of the year), and favors conservative judges. In contrast, Arlen Specter is a consummate liberal who never met a spending bill he didn’t like, and a committed porker. He voted against CAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China, joined with Ted Kennedy in borking Robert Bork’s Supreme Court nomination, and recently nearly accused Justices Alito and Roberts of lying during their nomination proceedings.
The list goes on: Specter voted for McCain-Feingold; voted against medical savings accounts; voted for price controls; voted for Medicare Part D; voted for the Bridge to Nowhere; voted to increase the minimum wage; voted to make it easier to raise taxes; voted for the cigarette tax hike contained in the overbloated S-CHIP bill; and voted for S-CHIP. On foreign policy issues, perhaps the best way to sum up the difference between Mayor Giuliani and Senator Specter is this interesting tidbit: Rudy Giuliani kicked Yasser Arafat out of Lincoln Center while Arlen Specter frequently enjoys tea with the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad. The differences between Specter and Giuliani are many, and while Mayor Giuliani parts ways with conservatives on a number of social issues, overall, there is no comparison.
Lopez: Which Republicans must be defeated in 2008?
Toomey: If there is one Republican who must be shown the door, it is Representative Wayne Gilchrest (Md., 1). Representing the conservative First Congressional District in Maryland, Rep. Gilchrest is one of the most economically liberal Republicans in Congress, ranking 212th on the Club for Growth’s 2006 scorecard.
His anti-growth votes read like a “RINO of the Year” award. He recently broke his anti-tax pledge, not once, but twice, voting for the Farm Bill, including a tax hike on foreign companies, and for a tax hike on oil companies. He feels no compunction about wasting taxpayer dollars, whether he’s voting for mohair and Viagra subsidies or against every anti-pork amendment (for which he was present) in 2007 and 2006. In a blow to political free speech, Gilchrest supported McCain-Feingold and the so-called 527 Reform Bill last year. Of course, there’s his vote to increase the minimum wage and his vote against an amendment restricting eminent domain abuse — and well, I could go on for a long time.
In contrast, his opponent, Maryland State Senator Andy Harris, has a long record of fighting for taxpayers at the local level, leading the fight against the Wal-Mart Tax Bill in the Maryland State Senate and sponsoring repeal of the Maryland inheritance tax. Harris has successfully ousted a Republican incumbent before, has been endorsed by former Maryland Republican Governor Bob Ehrlich, and is outraising Gilchrest. A Harris victory in the February primary will be a decisive victory for the conservative movement.
Lopez: Where is the Club focusing its efforts next year?
Toomey: The Club for Growth will be focusing its efforts on two fronts. In the presidential race, we will continue to be an arbiter of economic conservatism among the various presidential and vice-presidential candidates. We hope to encourage the candidates to adopt bold pro-growth platforms and to continue to educate the public about the candidates’ respective records and policy proposals.
On the congressional level, the Club for Growth PAC will be supporting an impressive group of economically conservative candidates in key House and Senate races across the country. These include Senator John Sununu in New Hampshire, former Rep. Bob Schaffer in Colorado, State Senator Andy Harris in Maryland’s First Congressional District, and former County Treasurer and State Representative David Schweikert in Arizona’s Fifth Congressional District.
Lopez: What’s your biggest concern about Republicans this election season?
Toomey: The biggest concern is the ongoing struggle between those Republicans who want to continue down the disastrous road of big-government conservatism that doomed the Party in the 2006 cycle and those who want to return the Republican Party to its economically conservative roots. While some Republicans in Congress are putting up a fight to limit government, many Republicans have their hands permanently in taxpayers’ pockets and are not very happy about the concerted effort to remove them.