During the 1988 Republican Convention, then Vice President George H. W. Bush uttered a phrase that would destroy his Presidency — “Read my lips, no new taxes.”
Just two years later, voters realized they had read a lie on President Bush’s lips. He negotiated a budget agreement with Democrats in the United States Congress that raised taxes. Republicans in the House of Representatives rallied against their own President. Ed Rollins, then Chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, advised Republicans to campaign against the President in 1990. “Do not hesitate to distance yourself from the President,” Rollins wrote in a famous memo. President Bush demanded congressional Republicans fire Rollins, but the House Republicans held on him. The House GOP lost a net of 8 seats and the Senate GOP lost 1 seat.
President Bush would ride a wave of popularity in 1991 due to victory in the Gulf War and use a 91% approval rating to have Ed Rollins fired by refusing to campaign with Republican candidates until Rollins left. A year later, with a struggling economy, a conservative base that would neither forget nor forgive his lie, and a primary challenger named Pat Buchanan to embarrass him in New Hampshire with a stronger than expected showing, President George H. W. Bush would be defeated by Bill Clinton. Conservatives were willing to throw out President Bush because of his lie. Many of them rallied to a third party, H. Ross Perot, who garnered 18.9% of the vote.
Bush got 63% of self-described moderate Republicans and 82% of self-described conservative Republicans. Compare that to four years later after one full term of Bill Clinton. Bob Dole would get 72% of moderate Republicans, up 9% from George H. W. Bush, and 88% of conservative Republicans, up 6% from George H. W. Bush. Among conservative independents, Bush got 53% with Perot getting 30%. Bob Dole would get 60% of that demographic four years later.
In the Republican Primary of 1992, Pat Buchanan, explaining his decision to primary President Bush went straight back to the 1990 tax increase, said
If the country wants to go in a liberal direction, if the country wants to go in the direction of [Senate Democratic Leader] George Mitchell and [Speaker] Tom Foley, it doesn’t bother me as long as I’ve made the best case I can. What I can’t stand are the back-room deals. They’re all in on it, the insider game, the establishment game—this is what we’re running against.