The Club for Growth issued a report earlier this week on the economic record of Mitt Romney when he was governor of Massachusetts, as they have done with Rudy Giuliani and some of the other Republicans running for their party’s nomination for president. On the Romney record, they concluded, “While there is no question that Governor Romney’s initial fiscal discipline slacked off in the second half of his term, on balance, he imposed some much-needed fiscal discipline on a very liberal Massachusetts Legislature.” In the wake of this latest report and in anticipation of Congress’s return to the Beltway and the coming winter primaries, Club president Pat Toomey, former Pennsylvania congressman, took questions from National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez.
Kathryn Jean Lopez: Looking at the numbers in the GOP field, do you have a horse in this race?
Pat Toomey: Our primary purpose is educational — helping the public and its leaders to understand the benefits of pro-growth policies and to work to get these policies adopted. The Club for Growth PAC, for its part, has not endorsed any presidential candidate so far, and has no intention of doing so in the near future. After all, the Republican field isn’t even complete! Clearly, we believe some candidates are more pro-growth than others, but we are still in the process of evaluating all the candidates.
Lopez: You’ve been going through the Republican field one by one; your latest presidential paper is on Romney. What do you say about the former Massachusetts governor? What’s most important to you about his record?
Toomey: As our white paper demonstrates, Governor Romney’s economic record is a bit of a mixed bag, but offers reason to be cautiously optimistic about his overall commitment to pro-growth policies. While we cite concerns about past statements and positions, we give Romney credit for his four years as Massachusetts governor in which he tangled with a very liberal legislature and managed to implement modest pro-growth reforms while demonstrating a willingness to fight for others, even if he wasn’t always successful in the end.
Lopez: What are the big differences between Romney and Giuliani from your vantage point?
Toomey: One of the major differences is that Giuliani was more successful in implementing pro-growth reforms in New York City. Although Romney certainly made an admirable effort to push tax cuts and welfare reforms through the ultra-liberal Massachusetts legislature, his actual success was small compared with Giuliani’s. While this may be a function of the length of time Giuliani served in office, it is an important element that cannot be discounted.
Lopez: You’ve hit Mike Huckabee hard. Is there a point to that? One assumes he won’t be the nominee?
Toomey: There is no question that Mike Huckabee is a charismatic politician, but Governor Huckabee is attempting to use his charisma to hoodwink American voters and the media with respect to his economic record. While there is little chance of Governor Huckabee catapulting into the coveted first tier, he is being discussed as a viable vice-presidential pick, especially if the eventual nominee needs a social conservative to shore up the conservative base. The Club for Growth’s original observations about Huckabee’s tax-and-spend record have been born out in recent weeks as Huckabee embraced a new brand of lefty populism and class warfare rhetoric that one often hears from Democrats. It is important for the Club for Growth to continue to push to clarify the true nature Mike Huckabee’s economic record and policies.
Lopez: Would your concerns with Huckabee preclude him from being a veep pick in your estimation?
Toomey: Obviously, a presidential candidate’s commitment to economic conservative policies would be called into question if he selected a vice-presidential candidate with Huckabee’s record.
Lopez: Have you paid any attention to Fred Thompson yet?
Toomey: We have done extensive research on Fred Thompson’s economic record. Our white paper on Fred Thompson’s economic record will be released with the forthcoming declaration of his candidacy.
Lopez: If a Dem had to be elected president, is any one of them less worse than the others?
Toomey: Unfortunately, the first-tier Democratic candidates are desperately trying to outflank one another on the Left. Although writer Bruce Bartlett continues to lump Hillary Clinton with her comparatively centrist husband on economic issues, her rhetoric and positions over the past couple of months demonstrate that she is just as eager to raise a socialist flag atop the White House as Barack Obama and John Edwards. All three of these collectivists have called for universal healthcare and the renegotiation of NAFTA, have declared opposition to the new U.S.-South Korea trade deal and the Bush tax cuts, support taxing private equity companies, and engage in class warfare rhetoric. Of the second-tier Democratic candidates, Bill Richardson has supported some pro-growth tax policies, but he has not fully embraced the opportunity to distinguish himself as an economic moderate.
Lopez: Going into the fall session, is there anyone in Congress you have high hopes for?
Toomey: Legislatively, we continue to rely on a small, but growing, band of economic stalwarts in the United States Congress. These include Senators Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) and Jim DeMint (R., S.C.) in the Senate and Reps. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.), John Shadegg (R., Ariz.), Jeb Hensarling (R., Tex.), Scott Garrett (R., N.J.), and others in the House. We are particularly encouraged by the strong showing of many of the freshmen Citizens Club for Growth PAC helped elect in 2006.
Lopez: Has anyone you supported or opposed especially surprised you?
Toomey: Citizens Club for Growth PAC supported Rep. John Campbell in 2005, and he has emerged as a taxpayer hero. During the recent appropriations process, Rep. Campbell took to the House Floor multiple times to offer anti-pork amendments, even engaging John Murtha in a fiery exchange over a particularly outrageous pork project. Watch the exchange here.
Lopez: What House and Senate primary races should be especially paying the most attention to?
Toomey: The Club for Growth PAC recently endorsed Andy Harris who is running against incumbent Republican Representative Wayne Gilchrest in Maryland’s first congressional district. Gilchrest is an inveterate economic liberal who has only gotten worse with age. Clearly, one of the most economically liberal Republicans in the House of Representatives, Gilchrest ranking 212th on the Club for Growth’s 2006 scorecard and 205th on Citizens Club for Growth’s 2005 scorecard. He voted for the recent Farm Bill, including a tax hike on foreign companies (RC #756, 07/27/07); for McCain-Feingold; for egregious subsidies like mohair (RC #383, 07/11/00), sugar (RC #234, 06/08/05), and Viagra (RC #312, 06/24/05); and against an amendment to restrict eminent domain abuse (RC #477, 09/26/06). Gilchrest also voted against all 50 anti-pork amendments offered during the FY 2008 appropriations process over the past couple of weeks.
In contrast, his challenger State Senator Andy Harris is a strong economic conservative who has the record and the experience to take on Rep. Gilchrest. This is bound to be an exciting race — if not the most exciting congressional primary of the 2008 cycle — and a battle between true economic conservatism and liberal politics as usual. The PAC is confident that taxpayers will choose the candidate who protects their hard-earned money over a politician who has gone to the left of many Democrats.
Lopez: What are Club for Growth’s goals this fall and going into the primary months this winter?
Toomey: The Club for Growth has a lot of work to do — much of it on defense. Congress will return in September with a revived appetite for raising taxes, imposing protectionist measures against China, opposing upcoming free trade deals with Panama and Peru, and adding new counterproductive regulations to the financial services industry. The Club for Growth will not sit silently while the new Democratic majority tries to run roughshod over our economy.
Our PAC has endorsed three candidates so far — Senator John Sununu in New Hampshire, former Rep. Bob Schaffer in Colorado, and State Senator Andy Harris in Maryland — and is working hard to help these fiscal stalwarts. The PAC will continue to keep its eye on other developing races and hopes to endorse an impressive slate of economic conservatives.
On the presidential side, the Club for Growth will continue to play an active role in educating the public about the economic policies and records of all the presidential candidates — Republican and Democrat.
Finally, the Club for Growth’s fall conference is coming up on October 17, 2007, in Washington, D.C., and will feature a terrific line up of speakers and panelists, including Members of Congress and other government officials, economists, and media personalities. And our always enjoyable Winter Conference this year will be held the weekend of January 31-February 2, 2008 in sunny Palm Beach, Florida. Last year’s conference was a huge success with major presidential candidates and many senators and representatives in attendance. More information on both events can be found here.