The tax seduction: Why Republicans should think twice before breaking the pledge

Matt K. Lewis | Senior Contributor

A trend is emerging. Republican opinion leaders are increasingly open to the possibility of raising taxes. The idea is gaining steam.

For example, Bill Kristol has endorsed raising taxes on millionaires. The DC Examiner’s Conn Carroll writes that, “just giving President Obama what he wants on rates, and then going home, could be the best possible fiscal cliff outcome.”

And most recently, former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said he would support tax hikes in exchange for entitlement reform.

This, of course, would seem to provide a bit of cover for nervous Republican Members of Congress who are looking to cut a deal in order to avoid going over the fiscal cliff.

They may live to regret it. Like George H.W. Bush’s “read my lips” reversal, a vote to raise taxes could become a defining moment for some Republicans.

Voters are capricious. It’s sometimes hard to predict whom they will blame, or which transgressions they will (or won’t) forgive. And those talking heads? — they will turn on you, too, once it becomes convenient.

Before it became toxic, even Al Gore thought Saddam had weapons of mass destruction. A lot of Democrats voted for the Iraq war resolution. Yet, Hillary’s support for it probably allowed Barack Obama to defeat her in the 2008 Democratic primary.

On the domestic side, a lot of Republican politicians — and conservative opinion leaders, I should add — supported George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” and Medicare Part D, etc. Newt Gingrich even reportedly urged Members to support the Medicare expansion.

Later, of course, having taken these positions would become an albatross around the necks of Republican politicians seeking higher office. Rick Santorum was still answering questions about it when he ran for president in 2012. So was Newt.

Here’s my bottom line: While I would urge Republicans to vote their conscience based on the merits (not personal political calculations), I would also caution them against thinking that today’s zeitgeist will last until tomorrow. Columnists and pundits can always change their positions. There is little penalty for doing so.

Elected politicians don’t have this luxury.

Don’t think that because Bill Kristol or Haley Barbour — or even Matt Lewis — writes or says something today, that it will give you political cover tomorrow.

It won’t.

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