Editors' Pick: Originally Published Monday, Dec. 14.
Steve Forbes ran for president twice -- in 1996 and 2000 -- spending a reported $69 million of his own money in failed bids to win the Republican nomination. His campaigns mostly focused on establishing a flat income tax and other similar economic reforms.
The multi-millionaire chairman and editor-in-chief of Forbes Media isn't running for president this time around, but he does have a new book out this week (Reviving America), promoting three big reforms he believes America should adopt: repeal and replace Obamacare with something akin to a free-market health-care system; scrapping the Federal income tax code in favor of a flat tax; and overhauling the Federal Reserve, including re-linking the U.S. dollar with the price of gold.
We sat down with Forbes, 68, for a brief chat during a visit to TheStreet offices in New York. Here's what he had to say about Donald Trump, what other Republican candidates need to do, and who he's considering supporting for president. This interview has been condensed for clarity and length.
TheStreet: Donald Trump has made a huge splash in this election.
Steve Forbes: He's tapped into -- in a way I don't think he anticipated, nor did anyone else -- into the depth of the anger, frustration, contempt of Americans for the political class.
As you know, most Americans still think we're in a recession. Most Americans have seen their real wages decline in the last six years. They sense -- they don't have to be told it -- that this is the worst recovery from a recession in American history.
Then you compound that with the feeling that this current administration does not have its heart in fighting Islamic terrorism...that's a lethal combination.
The question becomes which candidate or candidates are going to be able to tap into it in a positive way, like Reagan did in the late '70s and early '80s.
TST: It sounds like you're implying that he's tapped into something very cleverly, but his message isn't positive or the right Republican or conservative message.
SF: It's been a mixed message. His tax plan is pretty good. It's not a flat tax, which I advocate, and several other candidates have gotten on board. Certainly what he's proposed is better than what we have today. On trade, I am a free trader. I don't want tariffs -- to me, tariffs are taxes.
And on immigration, I think his proposals are a non-starter, legally and morally. But what is out there is that people do want far more effective methods in dealing with Islamic terrorism.
So, what he has sensed in a way the others haven't is what the mood of a lot of people is. Every time he makes a statement, it causes a "hoo-ha."
What candidates should be doing is not complaining about trump. They can denounce his proposals, but instead of whining about it -- that he sucks the oxygen out of the room -- if you want to be heard, have something to say.
If you ask voters, what is Jeb Bush's theme? Blank. What are the others' themes? Well, they have some good ideas, but they haven't connected the dots -- the way that Reagan did in '80, the way that Kennedy did in '60. These people who make their living in politics haven't stepped up to the plate and acted like entrepreneurs -- if I have a message, how do I get it out there? If the electorate has changed, how do I do it?
TST: Do you think he has a chance of winning the Republican nomination?
SF: I'm humbled. I don't rule anything out now. Who would have thought Bernie sanders, looking at the other side would get 30%-to-40% of the vote -- everyone is focused on Republicans but look at this guy!
It shows people are dissatisfied, whether it's on the left or on the right.
TST: Is there someone you do support for president?
SF: No. I compare it to the dating game. I keep on looking at the candidates and finding good things in some and trying to piece it all together.
TST: Based on some of the policies you put forward in your new book, that you've been putting forward for a while, if I could just reach a little bit, it sounds like Rand Paul is a candidate that would be close to getting your support. Is he or any of the other candidates maybe a little bit in the lead in terms of your support?
SF: I don't agree with him on foreign policy. But I think both he and [Ted] Cruz, Cruz especially, is ahead of understanding the problems at the Fed. So, I like that. They both have flat tax proposals, but I wish they'd get rid of the VAT component. So, none are quite there, but some get pieces of it.
[Marco] Rubio for example is very good on foreign policy but his tax proposal is one of the worst ones out there.