Reagan Misfire

by John J. Pitney, Jr.

If President Obama thought that he could sway congressional Republicans by quoting President Reagan on the 1982 tax increase, he made a mistake.  As John Gizzi and Yuval Levin have pointed out, Reagan later came to regret the legislation, believing that Democrats had reneged on spending cuts. The measure was also politically hurtful and divisive for Republicans. A Washington Post poll showed that Americans opposed it, 54 percent to 38 percent. The debate split the party, with Newt Gingrich accusing Reagan of “trying to score a touchdown for liberalism, for the liberal welfare state, for big government, for the Internal Revenue Service, for multinational corporations, and for the various forces that consistently voted against the president.”

In the midterm election that year, House Republicans suffered a net loss of 26 seats. Though the recession was largely to blame, GOP lawmakers thought that the tax measure worsened their political plight.

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