Rick Perry is going to call for a flat tax, a bid to steal a bit of Herman Cain's tax code magic as his own campaign struggles and has recruited Steve Forbes to help him do it. The New York Times' Adam Nagourney reports the luster-losing candidate didn't offer details, but signaled the plan in a speech on Wednesday by saying, "the three million words of the current tax code and start with something simple: a flat tax." With Cain doing so well -- and selling a lot of books -- thanks to his 9-9-9 plan, why not give it a shot?
Maybe because the flat tax's greatest success has been in creating the kind of candidates that reporters call "what would happen if some mad scientist decided to construct a dork robot" instead of the kind of the kind that win elections. Forbes ran for president in 1996 with a 17 percent flat tax as the centerpiece of his campaign. He lost. Forbes won just two states primaries, Delaware and Arizona, before he dropped out of the race. He ran again in 2000. He lost then too. Together, those campaigns cost him about $70 million, The New York Times reports. His family had to sell off Forbes stock -- and his dad's collection of Fabergé eggs. (He later explained that for heirs, "You can give them cash or eggs ... Not everyone wants eggs.")
But it wasn't just a couple campaigns. Time wrote in February 1996, "Since 1988, Forbes has written at least 65 pieces that urge tax cuts, moan about taxes here and abroad, look back with anger on tax hikes past or hail great tax cuts and cutters of yesteryear. No fewer than 45 columns, meanwhile, give lectures on the need for stable money, preferably achieved by returning to a gold standard, and berate the Federal Reserve and other financial authorities for assorted crimes against currency." And nothing to show for it.
Forbes wasn't alone in calling for the radical tax overhaul. Then-and-now-California Gov. Jerry Brown pushed a flat tax in the 1992 Democratic primaries. He lost too. Then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey pushed for it in 1994. In the 2008 campaign, Mike Huckabee called for the "fair tax," which would be a 23 percent national sales tax. He lost too.
The Washington Post's Rachel Weiner writes, "But Perry is the most viable presidential candidate to advocate for the idea." Maybe for now. In 1999, Forbes told fundraisers that if he were elected president, "I would throw out the entire 7 million-word tax mess and replace it with a flat tax," The Washington Post reported. Today, Perry says he'll toss "the 3 million words of the current tax code and start with something simple: a flat tax." We don't know where 4 million words went between then and now, but we know where the flat tax has gone.