By Newt Gingrich
Watching the deliberate, determined partisan negotiating strategies of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., I was reminded of my own experience in the budget negotiations of 1990.
President George H. W. Bush had won the 1988 election in part because of his great speech at the Republican National Convention. Americans were thrilled when he said: “I’m the one who won’t raise taxes. My opponent now says he’ll raise them as a last resort, or a third resort. When a politician talks like that, you know that’s one resort he’ll be checking into. 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.’”
This “no new taxes” pledge was the culmination of a struggle that began when the 1984 Republican platform adopted a plank calling for no new taxes. It contrasted sharply with the 1984 Democratic nominee and former Vice President Walter Mondale, who said in his nomination acceptance speech that he would raise taxes. (Something we gleefully used to defeat him decisively.)
The Republican opposition to tax increases was reinforced by Grover Norquist’s development of a no tax increase pledge, which then-Vice President Bush had reluctantly signed in 1987 – and which became a major point of distinction between him and his primary Republican rival for the nomination, U.S. Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan.
Seen in this context, Bush’s pledge “read my lips: no new taxes” felt to conservatives like a historic victory over the old order – and a promise that was at the heart of his victorious majority.
So, Democrats looking ahead to the 1992 election had one major goal: Get President Bush to break his word, raise taxes and take the enthusiasm out of his conservative base.