(NYMAG) — Running for president was a catastrophic error for Newt Gingrich, a man prone to catastrophic errors. He dynamited his reputation, blew a hole in his net worth, and sabotaged his future earnings ability by giving his opponents an incentive to expose his influence-peddling business for what it was. And yet Gingrich’s seminal achievement remains fully intact. He redefined the Republican Party as an ideologically disciplined, parliamentary-style party. And, in particular, he made it a party of anti-tax fundamentalism.
When Republicans invoke opposition to taxes as their central tenet, they usually invoke Ronald Reagan. It was Reagan who introduced large peacetime, debt-financed tax cuts and inaugurated the era of mass deficits. But Reagan, having leapt wholesale into this new territory at the outset of his presidency, spent the rest of it crawling back. Reagan passed a huge tax cut in 1981, but the enormous deficits, and the ability of rich people to escape taxation, haunted his advisors. Reagan signed on to a series of tax hikes in subsequent years, and supported a tax reform that ended the capital gains loophole. He remained rhetorically opposed to taxes, but in practice Reagan had only evolved a bit from the fiscal traditions of previous balanced-budget Republicans.