Can a politician advocate budget cuts and succeed?
The answer is found in the politics of President Calvin Coolidge, a man whose persistence led to reductions in the size of government, according to Amity Shlaes, the author of a new biography on the 30th President entitled simply, Coolidge.
“[There is] a desire to know if a politician could ever cut as he did, and the answer is, yes,” said Shlaes in an interview with Heritage’s Rob Bluey.
The quiet New Englander known as “Silent Cal” was nominated for office 15 times during his lifetime, and never lost an election—from city councilman to President. When he sought the top office on a platform of cutting taxes and federal spending in 1924, Coolidge won carrying 382 electoral votes, 54 percent of the popular vote, and 35 states.
“Coolidge beat the Progressives and the Democrats combined, taking an absolute majority, with government austerity,” said Shlaes.
His popularity was well known when he left office in 1928. As The New York Times wrote in his 1933 obituary, “The prestige of Coolidge was so great at the end of his second term that the leaders of his party wished to override the tradition that no President should have a third term. It was with difficulty that President Coolidge prevented his enthusiastic renomination by the Republican National Convention in 1928.”
Shlaes argued that Coolidge succeeded because he truly believed in his principles and stood by them: “He really believed that a smaller budget was better for the country—that the government got out of the way of the people. He saw a virtue in it.”
Another factor in Coolidge’s success was his close relationship with his wife and First Lady, Grace Coolidge. “She was a most beautiful first lady, one of the most beautiful, and he was kind of jealous of everyone’s attentions of her,” Shlaes said.
“It was an epic marriage,” Shlaes said. “He gave the money his friends raised for him and his library to her cause. Not many presidents would do that.”
His leadership led to the lowest tax rate since his presidency ended—a feat not even matched by President Ronald Reagan.
“We always hear about historic rate cuts by Kennedy or Reagan. Reagan cut the top marginal rate to 28 percent. But Coolidge’s marginal tax rate is even better at 25 percent. So here he does outdo Reagan.”
Watch Amity Shlaes’s complete lecture at The Heritage Foundation here.
T. Elliot Gaiser is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.