Before Republican presidential hopeful Rand Paul grabbed a chainsaw, he sat down with some far-right economists.
Rand Paul huddled with Art Laffer and Steve Moore yesterday ahead of a new push to promote his tax plan.
And before Republican presidential hopeful John Kasich kicked off his national campaign, he chatted with some of the exact same people.
Just after his recent New Hampshire foray, he met in New York with an influential group of fiscal conservatives including the former CNBC host Larry Kudlow, Reaganite economist Arthur Laffer, and the Heritage Foundation’s Stephen Moore.
I can appreciate the fact that Art Laffer and Stephen Moore aren’t household names, so the fact that they’re having conversations with national GOP candidates probably won’t raise a lot of eyebrows with the American mainstream. But these chats nevertheless touch on an important point about Republican politics: being discredited is not a barrier to success.
Take Stephen Moore, for example, the Heritage Foundation’s chief economist. Earlier this year, after Moore published a bizarre piece criticizing the Affordable Care Act, Paul Krugman described the conservative as “a guy who has a troubled relationship with facts.”
Krugman added at the time, “I don’t mean that he’s a slick dissembler; I mean that [Moore] seems more or less unable to publish an article without filling it with howlers … in a way that ends up doing his cause a disservice.”
Laffer’s reputation is in far worse shape. As regular readers may recall, Laffer rose to GOP prominence in the 1980s pushing the celebrated-but-wrong idea that tax cuts can pay for themselves.
More recently, he served as the architect of Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R) failed right-wing economic experiment, which destroyed state finances and did little to improve the state’s economy. Asked for an explanation, Laffer recently boasted, “Kansas is doing fine.”
That’s only true if one overlooks literally every relevant detail.
A few months ago, Krugman added some helpful context to Laffer’s record.
Since the 1970s there have been four big changes in the effective tax rate on the top 1 percent: the Reagan cut, the Clinton hike, the Bush cut, and the Obama hike. Republicans are fixated on the boom that followed the 1981 tax cut (which had much more to do with monetary policy, but never mind). But they predicted dire effects from the Clinton hike; instead we had a boom that eclipsed Reagan’s. They predicted wonderful things from the Bush tax cuts; instead we got an unimpressive expansion followed by a devastating crash. And they predicted terrible things from the tax rise after Obama’s reelection; instead we got the best job growth since 1999.And when I say “they predicted”, I especially mean Laffer himself, who has a truly extraordinary record of being wrong at crucial turning points. As Bruce Bartlett pointed out a few years ago, Laffer was even wrong during the Reagan years: he predicted that the Reagan tax hikes of 1982, which partially reversed earlier cuts, would cripple the economy; “morning in America” promptly followed. Oh, and let’s not forget his 2009 warnings about soaring interest rates and inflation.
It’s against this backdrop that Rand Paul and John Kasich sought out Laffer for economic guidance. It’s a bit like taking advice on national security from Dick Cheney, which Republicans also keep doing.
Politics really isn’t supposed to work this way. When someone fails spectacularly, he or she is supposed to quietly go away, not offer guidance on the issue that left them looking ridiculous.
And yet, here we are. On the right, the disconnect is hard to miss – just because someone is discredited doesn’t mean Republicans won’t seek that person out for their alleged expertise.