In one of his famous charticles for the Washington Post, Ezra Klein quips, “Today, tea party conservatives would be begging Sen. Jim DeMint to primary the Gipper.” From the right, a commenter on our own site asked, “Didn’t Reagan raise taxes?” As if this was the final word on Reagan’s conservatism.
Very few conservatives then or now were fond of Reagan’s 1982 budget deal, which had to be followed by subsequent tax-raising budget deals. But even with that tax increase, Reagan remained a substantial net tax-cutter. If any conservative politician today could deliver legislation as sweeping as those tax cuts, contributing to a policy mix that helped defeat a major economic challenge, my guess is conservatives would more tolerant of their deviations from the party line.
While there are plenty of conservatives whose main focus is making sure taxes don’t rise, my guess is conservatives would take a tax hike/budget cuts deal more seriously if cuts took the form of serious and enduring structural reform. Otherwise, they fear that the spending cuts will be reversed and the tax increases will be here to stay. And who can blame them? The Bush tax cuts did not fully repeal the Clinton tax increase, to name just one example.