Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush convened an hour-long gathering in Manhattan on Tuesday morning with three longtime advocates for sweeping tax cuts, seeking their counsel at the office of New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and sharing the details of his campaign’s economic plan, which will be formally unveiled Wednesday in Raleigh, N.C.
The trio of supply-side conservatives — Heritage Foundation economist Stephen Moore, publishing executive Steve Forbes and CNBC contributor Larry Kudlow — met with Bush alongside Johnson, Bush’s national finance chairman, according to two Republicans familiar with Bush’s schedule.
Those Republicans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private session and the Bush campaign’s outlook, said the former Florida governor hopes his tax offering will jump-start his candidacy, which has lagged behind GOP front-runner Donald Trump for months, by proposing lower corporate and personal tax rates while also eliminating a number of deductions that favor Wall Street investors.
Courting the party’s tax-cutting enthusiasts on Tuesday was the first step in that effort, the Republicans said, calling it a gesture of goodwill and a signal to the party’s business wing that, despite the rollicking race so far, Bush is mounting an aggressive fall campaign built around traditional GOP principles. Later on Tuesday, Bush will visit the offices of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, whose writers have for decades been ardent proponents of smaller government and lower taxes.
Tim Miller, a spokesman for the Bush campaign, confirmed the meeting with Moore, Forbes and Kudlow. Economist Arthur Laffer, who gained renown as an economic adviser to the Reagan administration in the 1980s, was invited to the meeting but was unable to attend.
Speaking last week in New Hampshire, Bush previewed his plan. “The tax code is rife with all sorts of deductions and credits and make people feel compelled to kind of follow the script rather than say, ‘I’m going to invest in this business,’ ” Bush said. “I want to reverse that.”
Bush allies said Bush’s aim is to strike a populist tone on how he goes after deductions and speaks of what activists call “crony capitalism,” and they acknowledged that Bush’s language on the trail is a nod to Trump’s success. At the same time, though, Bush wants to make a broader case for lowering rates, hewing to the free-market principles that have for years shaped GOP politics.
Bush’s approach contrasts with Trump’s, who has avoided adhering to Republican orthodoxy on taxes as he has climbed in the polls and who has been criticized by the Journal’s editorial board for his economic views and his hard-line stance on immigration policy. Trump also has targeted hedge-fund managers — many of them members of the GOP’s donor class — for using the U.S. tax code’s “carried interest” loophole that enables them to pay the capital-gains rate on their income, which is lower rate than the income tax they would otherwise have to pay.
Bush is the latest in a series of candidates to meet with the Kudlow, Moore, Forbes and Laffer group, which calls itself the Committee to Unleash Prosperity and which is pushing candidates to reduce taxes on income and investment — particularly for the highest-earning Americans — to spur more economic growth..
He is one of the last major GOP contenders to do so. Many of his rivals, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, attended on-the-record dinners with the group in upscale New York City restaurants and took questions on economics and other issues from the group’s broader membership, which includes a mix of Wall Street fund managers and Republican power players. Moore said Tuesday that he and the other organizers are trying to line up a dinner with Bush next month.
Tuesday’s meetings come amid a hectic day for Bush in New York. He’ll be attending a fundraiser hosted by Johnson that’s angling to attract younger Republicans, mostly New York-area legal and financial professionals who could be part of the “Mission: Next” project led by Bush sons George P. and Jeb Jr. The sons are responsible for wooing younger donors to help their father.
The campaign also is using the New York trip to raise money among smaller-dollar donors nationally. As part of his appearance Tuesday on the debut of CBS’s “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Bush launched a contest that asked backers to enter a raffle by donating at least $3. The money goes to his campaign, and the winner earns a seat in the audience at the storied Ed Sullivan Theater during the show’s taping.
Bush launched the appeal about a month ago, but Colbert drew attention to it last week in an online video, saying that he wasn’t aware that Bush was using his appearance to raise money and that he hadn’t sought the host’s permission.
“Where’s my cut of that sweet three bucks, governor, huh?” Colbert said.
In response, Colbert said he would launch his own raffle to benefit the Yellow Ribbon Fund, which gives aid to injured veterans returning from duty. The winner would get to attend the show and ask a question of the former Florida governor.
Bush responded in yet another video, saying he would not quibble with Colbert’s decision and that he would make a donation to the raffle.
With the end of the fundraising quarter fast approaching, Bush and his family are on a break-neck pace to match and exceed last quarter’s roughly $11 million haul.
On Thursday, former president George W. Bush will host a fundraiser for his brother in New York — his first foray into the 2016 campaign cycle. Columba Bush, the candidate’s wife, and Jeb Jr. will co-host a fundraiser next week in Los Angeles on the eve of the next Republican presidential debate. Jeb Bush will stop in Portland, Ore., on his way there for a fundraiser. The day after the debate, he’ll raise money while visiting Nevada.
Jim Tankersley contributed to this report.