During a 60 Minutes interview Sunday night, CBS’ Lesley Stahl asked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) about the GOP’s intransigence when it comes to raising any new federal revenue, pointing out that Cantor’s hero, Ronald Reagan, raised taxes when the occasion called for it. Before Cantor could even attempt to explain anything, one of his spokesmen, Brad Dayspring, interrupted the interview, taking issue with the notion that Reagan increased taxes:
STAHL: What’s the difference between compromise and cooperate?
CANTOR: Well, I would say cooperate is let’s look to where we can move things forward where we agree. Comprising principles, you don’t want to ask anybody to do that. That’s who they are as their core being.
STAHL: But you know, your idol, as I’ve read anyway, was Ronald Reagan. And he compromised.
CANTOR: He never compromised his principles.
STAHL: Well, he raised taxes and it was one of his principles not to raise taxes.
CANTOR: Well, he — he also cut taxes.
STAHL: But he did compromise —
CANTOR: Well I —
DAYSPRING: That just isn’t true. And I don’t want to let that stand.
Dayspring has had some trouble with the facts regarding taxes before, but the notion that it “just isn’t true” that Reagan raised taxes is absurd. He raised taxes in seven of his eight years in office, including one stretch of four tax increases in just two years. As Paul Krugman put it, “no peacetime president has raised taxes so much on so many people.” Reagan also completely equalized the tax treatment of investment income with that of wage income, a position putting him to the left of many of today’s Democrats, never mind Republicans.
Cantor’s office tried to clarify later that Dayspring’s remark “referred to the cumulative effect of Mr. Reagan’s tax policies, pointing out that he cut taxes more than he raised them, and that Mr. Reagan expressed regret making tax deals with Democrats because the spending cuts they agreed to never materialized.” But the point is, as historian Douglas Brinkley put it, “Ronald Reagan was never afraid to raise taxes. He knew that it was necessary at times. And so there’s a false mythology out there about Reagan as this conservative president who came in and just cut taxes and trimmed federal spending in a dramatic way. It didn’t happen that way. It’s false.” And this is a truth that today’s GOP just hasn’t been able to handle.