Jim — it’s Thompson, but, well.
It seems to me the decisive question here is whether anyone is going to significantly cut — not just slow the growthrate of — federal size and spending. You’ll get tax increases of some kind from the other guys, but, really, further tax cuts are a red herring. I mean cutting taxes without touching spending might be ‘better’ insofar as it spells more money for (hopefully) me. But anyone who thinks cutting taxes without touching spending is responsible is as wrong in kind, if not degree, as any Democrat in favor of raising taxes and spending.
There’s a double dose of bad news here. One, the responsible argument to hold taxes steady and cut spending is unpopular among Republicans without the courage to buck Bush’s profligate record. They fear delegitimizing Bush’s spending habits will delegitimize his tax-cutting ones. Plus anyone who doesn’t promise yet more cuts gets the bastinado, no matter if they’ll spend to the moon. Two, the less-responsible but still relatively moderate argument that taxes should go up and (non-military discretionary) spending down is wildly unpopular among Democrats, for whom tax increases are not enough.
So Republicans are very likely to lose the contest regardless, because they have presided over what everybody wants — hugely increased spending — while simultaneously blowing their credibility as anything other than tax-cutters. Democrats can easily say “more of this, but instead of Iraq, free preschool,” and Republicans can suck wind. The point isn’t that the GOP should fold like a house of cards here, but that it should stop wasting time and effort trying to parse the true believers on GOPonomics from the frauds, imposters, and halfhearted hacks. Nobody will cut spending to any respectable degree, unless Iraq starts going so well we can slash our outlay there. I’d like to say that means whoever vows to cut taxes most wins, but even though that’s a delightful policy it’s also inane and irresponsible. The best thing a conservative can do who wants to beat spending back down to a level that can actually preserve fair, low taxation without constant warfare is vote for the guy who’ll do these two things best:
(1) Bring our expenditures in Iraq to a successful, speedy conclusion;
(2) Reform our social health entitlement regimes before it’s too late.
Now that’s a debate about candidates worth having.