Last weekend’s Defending the American Dream Summit in Columbus played host to five presidential candidates: Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, and Marco Rubio. This part isn’t a surprise—the two-day event was organized by Americans for Prosperity, the Koch-funded political advocacy group that wields considerable power and influence. What was surprising was the most interesting speaker isn’t running for office. Rather, he’s mostly concerned about how someone runs a bar. His name is Jon Taffer, host of the popular series Bar Rescue on Spike.
On the show, Taffer takes on struggling bars and bar owners and almost literally whips them into shape. The native New Yorker has decades of experience in the hospitality industry—but it’s his drill sergeant persona that grabs one’s attention, translating into ever higher television ratings. (Take, for instance, his confrontation with a kitchen staffer who handles raw chicken and cooked food without washing her hands.)
On stage in Columbus, Taffer was just as furious—but this time because of the plight of small business: “Fortunes lost, family security lost, and their American dream destroyed by a politically charged, economic environment that again destroyed—not cultivated—their American dream. How about this? Approximately 600,000 small businesses open every year, 720,000 close! We’re bleeding to death!” He paces angrily. “Let’s face it, regulations are being implemented by law and executive order that can only be chosen with a complete disregard for small business, right?!” (Most of the audience applauds, but I can’t help wonder if some were trembling in fear. Having met with Taffer in the past, I'd add that aside from his booming voice and towering stature, there’s also the matter of his bulging eyes piercing your soul.)
In a phone interview earlier this week, Taffer sounded much more calm. And he seemed pleased by his performance at the summit, his first ever political event. “It felt fantastic,” he said. “You know, honestly, I feel like I have a message.” And he insists that the message was meant to be about policy, not politics. “I put together a speech that I believe I could have given at a conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican event.”
Except I’m not quite sure how Democrats would have responded to the health care segment of his speech: “With Obamacare, small business owners are forced to weigh the benefits of growing their business with the increased cost of mandated health care…. Legislation that is passed in the dark of the night causes concern from the get-go, doesn’t it? When our legislative leaders say, ‘You’ll see what’s in it when we pass it,’ that caused pause, didn’t it? That caused fear, didn’t it? The rumors flew! The fear of elevated cost grew—the cost did go up! And the failures of the White House PR team was monumental! Lightweight! They totally blew it!”
Plus he’s no Hillary Clinton fan. On Your World with Neil Cavuto and Varney & Co., Taffer said the Democratic candidate faces "a serious credibility issue" and "I'm not sure she's electable." On the phone, he went further, calling her "Nixonian." And although he says he isn’t sure if he could ever vote for Donald Trump, he sees the attraction. “I … think the fact that he doesn’t owe anybody anything is very appealing to America,” whereas “when I look at Bush donations, I get terrified when I read that 50 percent of his donations are coming from people who donated to his father and his brother. So these are three generations of favors this guy owes. That scares me as much as I like him.”
A common criticism about Donald Trump’s candidacy has been a lack of specific policy remedies. So I ask Taffer if he has a solution in mind—any solution—with regard to what ails small business.