No one has influenced Republican candidates’ thinking on the economy for the past four decades as much as Laffer, who is now 75. Laffer says he believes that limiting government and cutting tax rates, especially the rate levied on top earners, will unleash faster economic growth. Since he sold then-candidate Ronald Reagan on that prescription, every Republican presidential nominee has run on a Laffer-inspired economic platform.
As the 2016 GOP primary season takes off, Laffer is more in demand than ever before, with Republican candidates embracing tax-cut-for-the-rich policies even as they bemoan economic inequality. Candidates have been meeting with him in recent weeks, and on Friday in Nashville, he says, his schedule includes Rick Perry at 10 a.m., Ben Carson at noon, Jeb Bush at 1:15 p.m. and Bobby Jindal at 5. Dinner is scheduled with Ted Cruz. He has already met at least once with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.
For the first time in a generation, however, Laffer’s “supply-side” strategies are not going without question on the right. Some conservatives believe that America’s struggling middle class needs more targeted policies today than simply broad tax cuts, and that Republicans won’t win back the White House without offering that relief. And mainstream economists, in surveys and interviews, have expressed deep doubt about whether his view of economics is correct.
Laffer is as confident as ever — and so are many of the Republicans who follow his proposals. “What I tell candidates today — and there are not many who are very economically literate — is to push something simple, or do something that has worked in the past,” he said.
“I’ve been to this barbecue before,” he added. “Today is almost exactly like 1978,” two years before Reagan’s election.
But some conservative economists disagree. Michael Strain, an influential economist at the American Enterprise Institute, said Laffer’s formula needs an update for Republicans to win. “I would argue that conditions are substantially different today than they were in 1978,” he said.
The upcoming election is, in many ways, a crucial barbecue for Laffer and his supply-side acolytes. In recent years Laffer has advised Republican governors and legislators on tax- cutting plans in North Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Florida and Kansas, where the revenue shortfalls that followed nearly cost Gov. Sam Brownback his job last November.