The Persuadable Voter: Wedge Issues in Presidential Campaigns

By D. Sunshine Hillygus; Todd G. Shields | Go to book overview
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Candidate Strategy in the 2004 Campaign

IN HIS NOMINATION ACCEPTANCE SPEECH at the 1988 Republican National Convention in New Orleans, President George H. W. Bush made his now famous pledge:

I'm the one who will not raise taxes. My opponent now says he'll raise them
as a last resort, or a third resort. But when a politician talks like that, you
know that's one resort he'll be checking into. My opponent, my opponent
won't rule out raising taxes. But I will. The Congress will push me to raise
taxes and I'll say no. And they'll push, and I'll say no, and they'll push
again, and I'll say, to them, “Read my lips: no new taxes.” (italics added)1

Bush would later find it impossible to make good on that promise. Facing an economic recession, a congressional mandate to reduce the deficit, and a Democratic Congress that opposed cuts to entitlement programs, Bush had little room to maneuver. In a press release in June 1990, Bush explained, “It is clear to me that both the size of the deficit problem and the need for a package that can be enacted require all of the following: entitlement and mandatory program reform, tax revenue increases, growth incentives, discretionary spending reductions, orderly reductions in defense expenditures, and budget process reform.” Bush broke his campaign promise.

Many argued that Bush's reversal on taxes contributed to his electoral defeat in 1992. Pat Buchanan threw his hat into the Republican primary, explaining, “We Republicans can no longer say it is all the liberals' fault. It was not some liberal Democrat who said 'Read my lips: no new taxes,' then broke his word to cut a seedy backroom budget deal with the big spenders on Capitol Hill.”2 Democratic television ads replayed a clip of Bush's pledge, labeling him untrustworthy and unprincipled. Although a number of other prominent Republicans agreed that a tax increase was necessary, Bush was criticized because

1 In an initial draft of the nomination speech, Bush's economic advisor, Richard Dar-
man, crossed out the phrase calling it “stupid and dangerous.” Darman, Who's in Con-
trol? Full text of speech is available through American Presidency Project at www

2 Robin Toner, “Buchanan, Urging New Nationalism, Joins '92 Race,” New York Times,
11 December 1991, B12.


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