As we talk at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C., I can’t help noticing that he appears to have shed a few pounds in the last few years. Could it be in preparation for a presidential run? “Hail no,” he retorts in his trademark southern drawl. He self-deprecatingly informs me that “the American people aren’t likely to ever elect a former Washington lobbyist as president.”
Perhaps not, but that didn’t stop him from winning two terms as governor of Mississippi and from racking up a successful record of achievement. He’s cut taxes, put the state budget in Jackson on a diet, passed one of the boldest tort reform laws in the nation, and helped bring thousands of new jobs into the state that ranks by many measures as America’s poorest. He gets universal accolades for his handling of Hurricane Katrina, which obliterated whole regions of Mississippi. In contrast to Louisiana, which captured all the media attention because the botched recovery effort there, in Mississippi the reconstruction and relief efforts were a case study in government professionalism and, as he puts it, “harnessing the power of the private sector in a time of crisis.”
“I am a small government, rational regulation, low tax, free market capitalist. And I’m going to be one even if I’m the last one!” Mr. Barbour declares.
He then offers a sobering fact of political history: “We need to understand that only once since 1896 has a party that took the White House not held on for at least two terms, and that was when Reagan beat Jimmy Carter. So the odds are stacked against us.” Message: Brace yourself for eight years of President Barack Obama.
One of his biggest worries is that voters have lost confidence in Reaganite free-market principles. “The last few times that we’ve lost elections, it has not been because voters changed their mind about our policies, it’s been because they changed their mind about us,” he explains. “They decided that we hadn’t adhered to the policies and principles that they had thought they were voting for during that election.”