Did David Perdue Step on the Anti-Tax Third Rail?

Observers of the GA GOP SEN race have been wondering if front-runner David Perdue would make it all the way to Primary Day humming his cheerful “Outsider Businessman” tune and staying vague enough in his sea of ads to avoid any of the ideological snares a ferociously conservative party might set for him.

Today ThinkProgress believes it’s found the smoking gun of Perdue’s comeuppance, via a piece with the rather provocative headline: “Georgia Senate Frontrunner Touches Republicans’ Third Rail, Suggests Raising Taxes.” Here’s Aviva Shen’s argument:

In a conversation with the Macon Telegraph’s editorial board released Tuesday, the multi-millionaire businessman did not offer the categorical refusal to raise taxes that is now customary among Republican candidates.

“Is it better to try to get out of the ditch by curbing the growth of spending or increasing revenue?” an editorial board member asked.

“Both,” Perdue replied emphatically.

“And that’s a euphemism for some kind of tax increase, of course,” the interviewer noted.

Perdue laughed and explained, “Well here’s the reality: If you go into a business, and I keep coming back to my background, it’s how I know how to relate is to refer back to it — I was never able to turn around a company just by cutting spending. You had to figure out a way to get revenue growing. And what I just said, there are five people in the U.S. Senate who understand what I just said. You know revenue is not something they think about.”

Even this relatively modest statement is a break with the strict anti-tax rhetoric most other Republican candidates have embraced. Signalling a willingness to compromise may be a smartly calculated move for Perdue; anti-tax zealotry helped sink dozens of House Republican and Senate candidates in the 2012 election.

To be fair, Perdue did not actually declare himself open to any tax increase. Indeed, as his spox quickly pointed out to ThinkProgress, supply-side orthodoxy holds that tax increases reduce revenues.

But Shen is on to something: if nothing else, it’s a sign of Perdue’s inexperience that he didn’t leap up and throw holy water and shout “Get thee behind me, Satan!” at the very mention of a tax increase.

The real question is whether any of Perdue’s opponents, all fighting for a runoff spot (presumably against him) will leap on this indiscretion (or at best, failure to make himself clear) and force Perdue to spend the last week before Primary Day denying he’s a godless tax-and-spender hiding behind a big ad budget.

UPDATE: Perdue rival Karen Handel is promoting this post via Twitter (also mischaracterizing it a bit). That’s a first, and probably a last. Welcome to PA, Handel fans. Say hello to Erick for me.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.