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How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich

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Far from creating the trickle-down economics promised by Reagan, the policies pursued by the modern Republican Party are gusher up. Under the leadership of Majority Leader Eric Cantor, the House's radicalized GOP caucus is pushing a predatory agenda for a new gilded age. Every move that Republicans make – whether it's to gut consumer protections, roll back environmental regulations, subsidize giant agribusinesses, abolish health care reform or just drill, baby, drill – is consistent with a single overarching agenda: to enrich the nation's wealthiest individuals and corporations, even if it requires borrowing from China, weakening national security, dismantling Medicare and taxing the middle class. With the nation still mired in the worst financial crisis since the 1930s, Republicans have categorically rejected the one financial policy with a proven record of putting the country back on a more prosperous footing. "You hear the Republicans say that you don't dare raise taxes in a weak economy," says Stockman. "Ronald Reagan did – three times." Not even the downgrading of America's debt – which placed the world's only superpower on credit par with New Zealand and Belgium – has given GOP leaders cause to reconsider their pro-wealth jihad. In August, as the so-called Supercommittee began its work to complete the debt-ceiling deal by reducing future deficits by another $1.5 trillion, Cantor issued the Party of the Rich's marching orders, insisting that Republicans not buckle under the "tremendous pressure" to hike taxes and instead target spending cuts in "mandatory programs."

The composition of the committee offers little hope that Congress will hold the rich accountable for their share of the deficit burden. While Democrats appointed deal-oriented centrists like Sen. Max Baucus to the committee, Republicans stocked it with anti-revenue hard-liners, including Sens. Jon Kyl and Pat Toomey, who used to run the Club for Growth – an ally of Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform. "Your wallet is safe," Norquist tweeted after the Republican roster was announced.

In an interview with Rolling Stone, Norquist expresses pride that the GOP has been so thoroughly transformed since the days of Reagan. "It's a different Republican Party now," he says. Norquist even goes so far as to liken the kind of Republicans common in Reagan's day – those willing to raise taxes to strengthen the economy – to segregationists. The "modern Republican Party," he says, would no sooner recognize a revenue-raiser than the "modern Democratic Party would recognize George Wallace."

Norquist expresses no discomfort at the moral impact of his project – providing tax favors for the wealthy that are paid for by cutting services to those who truly need them. "I understand greed and envy," Norquist says. "The idea that somebody's making money and you want to steal some of it? That's an interesting idea. But it's not morality. It's certainly not justice."

Such extremist rhetoric – equating taxation with theft – is exactly the kind of talk that dismays old-line Republicans. Many of those who fought for years at the side of Ronald Reagan say they no longer recognize traditional GOP values in the new Republican Party. Fighting for the rich, after all, is not the same as championing the right.

"You can look up my record: On conservatism and taxes I was better than Jesse Helms," says Simpson, the former senator. "But whatever happened to common sense? People are going to look around in five or 10 years and say, 'Whatever happened to the things that made me comfortable? That made our streets and schools good things?' And they'll look, hopefully, at Grover Norquist. I can say to you with deepest sincerity: If this country and this legislature are in thrall to Grover Norquist, we haven't got a prayer."

This story is from the November 24, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone.

Related
Grover Norquist: The Billionaires' Best Friend
The Enablers: Democrats On Board With the Party of the Rich
Must-Read Books on the GOP and the One Percent
Timeline: How the GOP Became the Party of the Rich

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