Pork Hunter

Saturday, February 24, 2007

President Pat Toomey Interviewed

Growing The Club

Q & A: Pat Toomey
Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007

The Club for Growth has waged some high-stakes, high-publicity campaigns the past two election cycles. In 2004, the Club fueled Rep. Pat Toomey's challenge against Sen. Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania Republican primary; and two years later, it tried to take out Republican Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island. In both cases, the Club lost, but it also cemented its reputation as a group that would aggressively try to enforce the ideals of "economic freedom" within the Republican ranks.

Moderate Republicans and GOP campaign committees have called the Club an obstacle to retaining seats. Democrats seem to expect attacks as well, although the Club surprised many political observers by supporting a candidate in a Democratic primary in Texas in 2006. What's clear is that in its eight year existence the Club has become a major player in promoting right-of-center economic principles.

In a recent interview with NationalJournal.com's Patrick Ottenhoff, Toomey, now the Club's president, discussed the Club's campaign philosophy, President Bush's economic record and more.

Q: You wrote a 2006 Wall Street Journal column in which you said that the Republican Party needs to return to the principles of Reagan. Yet one of Reagan's core principles was the so-called Eleventh Commandment, "Thou shall not speak ill of fellow Republicans." How do you square the Club for Growth's recent primary challenges against Republicans with Reagan's Eleventh Commandment?

Toomey: You may recall in 1976, Ronald Reagan challenged an incumbent Republican president, in a Republican primary -- the kind of thing that gets a lot of feathers ruffled. But he understood that that was necessary to recapture the purpose and commitment of limited government that had to be at the core of the Republican Party.

I think that that example of Ronald Reagan's leadership in 1976 -- his willingness to run against Gerald Ford in a Republican primary, setting the stage for what became his stunning victory in 1980 and two enormously successful terms -- I think that's the legacy that I look to, and that I think that people who believe in Reagan's message should look to.

That speaks to the way Republicans who are committed to conservative principles need to react when Republicans in office abandoned those principles.

Q: Gerald Ford went on to win the nomination. Is the Club's goal to win races or to just shake things up?

Toomey: Let me back up for a second, because you asked -- you said, is it the Club's goal to do "a" or "b." So, let me tell you what the Club's goal is,[because] it's neither "a" nor "b."

What we're all about is advocating policy that's going to lead to maximum economic growth. What we want to see is the kind of policies from the federal government that can produce the strongest sustainable economic growth, create the most opportunity and raise wages and standards of living as much as possible.

We don't have those kinds of policies in Washington now. Our economic growth, while strong, is far less than it could be. Our vision is to see the day come when Congress is so committed to powerful economic growth and elevating the quality of life for American citizens by enabling that powerful economic growth. That's what we strive to do.

So we do it through a variety of means and tactics. We try to persuade members of Congress of what the right policy is, both directly and indirectly through the media. We hold members of Congress accountable. We have scorecards, and we keep track of who's voting to encourage greater prosperity and who's voting against that prosperity.

And then of course we have a political arm, so to speak -- we have a [political action committee]. The PAC helps to elect candidates who believe in limited government and economic growth through economic freedom.

And so we use all of those tools to advance the policies that we know will lead to greater prosperity.

Q: When you engage in campaigns, is it a "play to win" mentality, or can there be victory in defeat where you're at least sending a message?

Toomey: When our PAC gets involved in a race, it is with absolutely every intention of winning the race.

And furthermore, we won't endorse a candidate if we don't think the candidate has a very real chance of winning. The candidate doesn't have to be a front-runner. In fact, most of the candidates we support are underdogs, but we won't endorse a candidate if we don't think the candidate has a very good chance of winning the primary and the general.

To give you some facts that I think illustrate that, if you look at the 2006 election cycle, the Club for Growth PAC endorsed 11 House candidates in their respective primaries. Of the 11 that the Club endorsed, eight won their primaries, and of the eight who won their primaries, seven went on to win their general elections.

I think that's an extremely impressive record, especially in what was a very, very bad Republican year. And it's all the more impressive when you consider that many of the candidates that we supported were underdogs going into the race and were not the first choice of much of the Republican establishment.

So that's a long way of saying it's not about sending a message, it's about winning.

Q: How much do you think President Bush has adhered to the principles of Reaganomics, both on the tax side and the spending side? How happy are you with his record?

Toomey: I would throw another category into it also, which is the trade side, and I would say that the president's record has been mixed.

On tax policy, the president's record has been outstanding. The 2003 tax cut package were a terrific combination of supply-side tax cuts that had exactly the intended effect of tremendously accelerating economic growth, creating the opportunity for Americans to build wealth, actually generating more revenue for the Treasury than was being generated prior to the tax cuts.

So, on any meaningful level, the tax cuts were enormously successful. President Bush deserves all the credit in the world for really the first substantial supply-side tax cuts in 20 years.

On the spending front, we're disappointed. The president clearly throughout his six years so far has not demonstrated a strong commitment to the limited government model that Reagan advocated.

He signed a farm bill into law that moved us away from market-based farm policy and toward the more command-control, bigger government approach. He advocated a huge new entitlement to Medicare. He pushed for an education bill that expanded the government's role in education. He accepted a transportation bill that grew spending enormously and had an enormous number of earmarks.

So in a variety of ways I think it's clear that the president chose not to commit a lot of resources to fighting for less government. So in that respect we've been disappointed.

But the third thing I wanted to mention is the trade policy; and this is very, very important to the well-being of our economy. It's no coincidence that we have the freest global trading environment in 100 years, maybe ever, and we also have the strongest economy in a very, very long time, and have had a very long, sustained economic expansion.

It's in part because of the expansion of trade that's occurred under both Democrat and Republican presidents. But this president in particular has been a very strong advocate for continuing trade, and that will be part of his pro-growth legacy.

Q: Who would you put the most faith in to bring a philosophy of economic freedom to the White House, whether that person has any intention of running or not?

Toomey: I can't say right now. We're still evaluating the candidates who have indicated an interest in running. We're doing our research on all of them and it wouldn't be fair for me to come to a conclusion until we've gotten that process done.

Q: But you seem to have singled out candidates you don't want in the White House, such as Huckabee...

Toomey: We haven't said anything about who we want, or who don't want. What we've done, and what we'll continue to do is, we've begun the process of issuing a series of presidential white papers, where we do a pretty thorough analysis of the candidates' actual records on economic growth issues.

As it happens, Governor [Mike] Huckabee [R-Ark.] is the first candidate for whom we've released a paper. And the fact is, Governor Huckabee on balance, raised taxes quite substantially and increased spending quite substantially while he was governor of Arkansas.

So we laid that out. We present the facts and a bit of analysis of the facts, and the context. But we haven't come out and endorsed anybody and we haven't come out and said we opposed anybody.

Q: Will the fact that there is a Democratic Congress give the Club a greater fundraising potential and more traction because there will be a clear platform to rally against?

Toomey: That's entirely possible. Fundraising is off to a terrific start in 2007, but we also had a great year in 2006 and a great year in 2005. So I think it's not entirely clear yet. We're still a young organization and so we've never been through a period of time when control of Congress has switched hands.

So we're going to have to see but I will have to tell you all indications point to our membership growing in number and remaining very enthusiastic about our mission to help encourage pro-growth policy.

Q: What has been more professionally fulfilling for you, serving as a U.S. congressman or leading the Club for Growth?

Toomey: That's a great question and it's actually a hard one to answer. I thoroughly enjoyed my six years in the U.S. House. There were moments of great frustration but there were also moments of great satisfaction. We had our small victories here and there.

But I'm equally enjoying the Club for Growth. It's just a fantastic organization. We have a terrific team in Washington and just absolutely wonderful members all across the country -- so dedicated to the principles of freedom and stronger prosperity.

So, I've only been at the Club for a little over two years, so I think I have to answer that question maybe a couple years from now when I have a better perspective.

(The current Club for Growth is a new entity operating under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code. It purchased the assets and name of the old organization, which operated under section 527. The new Club for Growth expects to be even more effective in promoting pro-growth policies.")

Hat tip: The Club for Growth.

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