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It’s not unusual in a presidential race for an unknown, dark horse candidate to break from the pack, catching fire in the debates and becoming part of the national conversation.
In 2024, Steve Laffey hopes person that will be him even if the odds are long and the road to the nomination is tough.
His plan: to charge onto the New Hampshire debate stage and demand Republicans talk about ways to reform Social Security, the so-called third rail of American politics – as in if a candidate touches it, they die a quick political debate.
But Laffey, a Republican and former mayor of Cranston, R.I., argues his background as a businessman – he worked at a brokerage firm – makes him the candidate for these tough economic times.
And that he’s not afraid to take on the tough issues.
‘I directly confront problems. That’s my life,’ Laffey, 61, said.
In an exclusive interview with DailyMail.com, he described how he’s better qualified for the White House than Donald Trump, how he thinks Mitch McConnell should retire from the Senate, and his plan to save the country from going into a recession.
‘People are suffering and I’m haunted by the images. That’s one of the reasons that I’m that I’m running for president,’ he said.
Republican Steve Laffey has launched a longshot bid for president but thinks he could be the candidate to catch fire during the 2020 primary
He supported Trump in 2020 but said the former president ‘doesn’t have the ability to hire and fire the right people’ and that hampered his ability to run the country.
‘My experience in hiring and, unfortunately, firing and putting the right people in the right place is far better than what Donald Trump showed is president,’ he said, adding: ‘I’m a financial expert. He, obviously, is not. He’s a real estate developer. By the way, if we need if we need to build some buildings, I’m all in.’
That is how Laffey talks – the words and ideas coming at a mile a minute, one after another, as he throws out option after option for future policies or issues he wants the country to be talking about.
It’s a verbal barrage of thoughts, words, famous names, and folksy candor.
Laffey, who bills himself as an ‘American office holder, author, filmmaker and proven financial expert,’ is likely to face a crowded field in the race for the GOP nomination.
Trump has already announced a second bid and Nikki Haley is expected to announce soon. Mike Pence, Ron DeSantis and Mike Pompeo also are all seen as contenders for the nomination – albeit no formal announcements yet.
Laffey says if he won, he would come into office with a list of people to fire and one of those people he thinks should leave is McConnell, the longtime Republican senator and leader in the upper chamber.
Laffey argues for term-limits and thinks McConnell has stayed past his time.
‘These people stick around way too long. Obviously I’m for term limits,’ he said. ‘But what’s their plan to help the American people now?’
On his list of federal agencies to target are the FBI, which he says needs to be reformed, and the Federal Reserve, whose mandate he wants to change so its sole task is managing the money supply to target inflation at 0%.
Laffey argues this will make Congress operate within its budget and therefore rein in the national debt.
He is deeply conservative – inspired by Ronald Reagan and Herman Cain. Throughout his earlier political career he was endorsed by the Club for Growth.
He said Cain’s rise in the 2012 primary – before he was hit by accusations of sexual harassment – inspired his current bid. Cain caught fire by proposing a simple – and catchy – tax plan: the 9-9-9 plan: 9% personal income tax, 9% federal sales tax, and 9% corporate tax to replace the country’s current tax system.
If candidates like Cain – and Marianne Williamson on the Democratic side – can break through, he thinks he has a chance too, perhaps even on the power of his personality or his words per minute.
‘I know how to fix education. I know how to fix health care,’ he said in a seven-minute answer to a question on how he would fix the country’s finances.
In that long answer, he mentions he is not depend on other’s money – unlike other candidates – praises Cain’s 9-9-9 tax system, describes how he would reform Social Security and accuses Congress of treating the debt limit like a ‘reality show.’
‘We need someone running for president to at least point this out and then catch fire,’ he concluded, barely taking a breath.
Laffey is inspired by Herman Cain’s 2012 primary campaign where the Republican candidate caught fire with his simple 9-9-9 tax plan before seeing his campaign crumble amid sexual harassment allegations
Steve Laffey and his wife Kelly
Laffey said he met with ‘Hermy’ – as he called him – before Cain’s death in 2020. He refused to discuss all the advice Cain gave him, but said his take-away was that Cain ‘spent too much money too quickly. … He was out of raising money for enough weeks and he had hired too many people.’
He said his campaign would be more careful.
As for Laffey, he has tried, and failed, to win public office since his two terms as mayor in the early 2000s.
After a controversial tenure running Cranston, he tried to run for Senate and Governor of Rhode Island.
In the 2006 Senate race, where he challenged then-Republican Senator Lincoln Chaffee in the primary, Laffey was such a divisive figure that Republicans warned if he won the GOP nomination, they would endorse the Democrat.
His supporters call him a brilliant man unafraid to make tough decisions and take necessary action: as mayor he fired crossing guards and stood up to unions but argues he put the city back on strong financial footing.
His critics say he has a massive ego and can’t stay out of the spotlight.
His presidential bid is a longshot for sure, a fact he acknowledges.
‘I think what I’ve learned over time, is that timing is everything. If I had run for mayor of Cranston four years early, I would not have won. And if I run for president in 2012 I wouldn’t get anywhere,’ he said.
‘But every 50 years, we have a disaster,’ he noted, adding he was worried one was staring the country in the face.
He’s specifically speaking of the economy. Economists give a 7 in 10 chance that the U.S. economy will be in a recession next year, according to a Bloomberg survey of economists last month.
The Biden administration pushes back against such predictions. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen argues that declining inflation rates and high employment put the country in a good position.
But Laffey argues there needs to be economic reform and fast. And he plans to tackle on of the biggest items in the federal budget: Social Security.
The system has its problems. In 2035, just 80% of benefits will be payable if Congress doesn’t fix the program soon, a study found last year.
Laffey wants to freeze the current Social Security system – paying the people who are still in it – and reforming it for generations to come.
‘We start because can’t we agree that it has to be fixed. And so, if you want to, I can tell you what it is we can we can talk about,’ he said.
He supports what’s known as the Purple system by Laurence Kotlikoff, an economics professor at Boston University. Under it, everyone would put 8 percent of their pay into a personal account with the government matching the contributions of low earners. All the contributions would be invested in a global market weighted index of stocks and bonds and real estate.
‘I’ve got six children. And so I think about this campaign, it’s like my campaign, but it’s your children. If you don’t have children, it’s your nephews and nieces. And so that’s where we have to change the Republican Party from the do nothing, we won’t touch your party,’ he said.
Steve Laffey (second from right), his wife and six children live in Colorado
Republican candidate Steve Laffey argues it’s time for Mitch McConnell (left) to retire and said his business expertise is better suited for the presidency than Donald Trump’s (right)
In order to reach his breakthrough status, Laffey plans to move to New Hampshire and work on getting his moment in a state where retail politics counts.
‘So my goal is to get into one of these debates in New Hampshire, let’s say right, and I’m gonna go live there,’ he said.
Each party sets its requirements for the debate stage but it usually involves hitting at least 1% in public opinion polls. In a small state like New Hampshire, where voters value candidate face time, the number is achievable.
Laffey grew up in Rhode Island, attending public school and becoming the first member of his family to go to college: Bowdoin College followed by Harvard Business School.
He went into the private sector: he was president of the investment bank Morgan Keegan in Tennessee, and then went to Stowe, Vermont, to start a hedge fund.
He returned to his hometown of Cranston in the 2000 and ran for mayor, winning in 2002 and again in 2004.
He left Rhode Island after his failed bid for governor in 2010. He moved to Colorado with his wife and six kids.
‘I took my kids for a better life in Colorado,’ he said.
In 2014, he tried to win the GOP nomination for Colorado’s 4th congressional district but came in fourth place.
But he says his time is ‘right now’ as he worries the country will hit the financial brink during the 2024 presidential contest.
‘And wouldn’t it be better if someone said you know what, I’m ready to handle it. In fact, I told you this was going to happen. And instead of ignoring the problem, let’s do the solutions to fix America for our children.’