In a presidential race, it’s not uncommon for an unknown candidate to break out of the pack, ignite the debates, and become part of the national conversation.
In 2024, Steve Laffey is hoping he will be, even if the odds are slim and the road to nomination is tough.
His plan: to storm the debate stage in New Hampshire and demand that Republicans talk about ways to reform Social Security, the so-called third rail of American politics – as if a candidate touches them, they die a quick political death.
But Laffey, a Republican and former mayor of Cranston, RI, argues that his background in business — he worked at a brokerage firm — makes him a candidate for these tough economic times.
“I confront problems directly. That’s my life,” said Laffey, 61.
Republican Steve Laffey has made a longshot bid for president but believes he could be the candidate who could catch fire during the 2024 primary
In an exclusive interview with , he describes how he is better qualified for the White House than former President Donald Trump, believes Senator Mitch McConnell should retire from Kentucky and revealed his plan to save the country from a to preserve recession.
“People are suffering and I am haunted by the images. That’s one of the reasons I’m running for president,” he said.
Though he supported Trump in 2020, he doesn’t believe the former president has “the ability to hire and fire the right people” and that it has hampered his ability to run the country.
“My experience of hiring and, unfortunately, firing and putting the right people in the right place is far better than what Donald Trump has shown as President,” he said, adding, “I’m a finance professional. He obviously isn’t. He is a real estate developer. By the way, if we have to build a few buildings, I’ll be there.”
That’s how Laffey speaks — the words and ideas coming in by the minute, one after the other as he pitches option after option for future policies or issues he wants the country to talk about.
It’s a verbal torrent of thoughts, words, famous names, and folk frankness.
Laffey, who describes himself as an “American incumbent, author, filmmaker and distinguished financial expert,” will likely find a crowded field in the race for the GOP nomination.
Trump has already announced a second offer and Nikki Haley is expected to announce soon. Mike Pence, Ron DeSantis and Mike Pompeo are also considered contenders for the nomination – although there have been no official announcements yet.
Laffey says that if he won, he would come into office with a list of people to leave — and one of those people he believes should leave is McConnell, the longtime Republican senator and minority leader in the upper chamber.
Laffey advocates term limits and believes McConnell was over his time.
“These people are staying here far too long. Obviously I’m for term limits,” he said. “But what is your plan to help the American people now?”
His list of federal agencies to attack includes the FBI, which he believes needs reform, and the Federal Reserve, whose mandate he wants to change so that its sole job is to manage the money supply to keep inflation from rising Aim for 0%.
Laffey argues that this will force Congress to work within its budget and thus curb the national debt.
He is deeply conservative – inspired by Ronald Reagan and Herman Cain. During his earlier political career he was supported by the Club for Growth.
He said Cain’s rise in the 2012 primary — before he was hit by sexual harassment allegations — 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 income tax to replace the country’s current tax system.
If candidates like Cain — and Marianne Williamson on the Democrat side — can break through, he believes he has a chance, too, perhaps based 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 response to a question about how he would fix the country’s finances.
In that lengthy response, he mentions that unlike other candidates, he doesn’t depend on anyone else’s money, 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 that out and then catch fire,” he concluded, barely taking a breath.
Laffey is inspired by Herman Cain’s 2012 primary campaign, in which the Republican nominee caught fire with his simple 9-9-9 tax plan — before seeing his campaign collapse amid allegations of sexual harassment
Steve Laffey and his wife Kelly
Laffey said he dated “Hermy” — as he called him — before Cain’s death in 2020. He refused to discuss all of the advice Cain had given him, but said his realization was that Cain was spending too much money too quickly. … He hadn’t raised any money for enough weeks and he had hired too many people.’
He said his campaign would be more cautious.
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 as Cranston, he attempted to run for the Senate and governor of Rhode Island.
In the 2006 Senate election, when he challenged then-Republican Senator Lincoln Chaffee in the primary, Laffey was such a controversial figure that Republicans warned that if he won the GOP nomination, they would back the Democrat.
His supporters call him a brilliant man who is not afraid to make difficult decisions and take the necessary measures: As mayor, he sacked border guards and opposed unions, but argues he has put the city back on solid financial footing .
His detractors say he has a massive ego and can’t stay out of the limelight.
His presidential bid is certainly a long shot, 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 earlier, I would not have won. And if I ran for president in 2012, I wouldn’t achieve anything,” 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 speaks explicitly of the economy. According to a Bloomberg poll of economists last month, economists give a 7 in 10 chance of the US economy sliding into recession next year.
The Biden administration resists such predictions. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen argues that falling inflation and high employment put the country in a good position.
But Laffey argues that there must be economic reform, and fast. And he plans to tackle one of the biggest items in the federal budget: social security.
The system has its problems. By 2035, only 80% of benefits will be payable if Congress doesn’t set the program soon, a study last year found.
Laffey wants to freeze the current Social Security system — pay the people who are still on it — and reform it for generations to come.
“We’re starting because we can’t agree it needs to be fixed. And if you want I can tell you what we can talk about,’ he said.
He supports the so-called Purple System of Laurence Kotlikoff, an economics professor at Boston University. After that, everyone would pay 8 percent of their salary into a personal account, with the state doubling the contributions of low-income earners. All contributions would be invested in a global market-weighted index of stocks, bonds and real estate.
“I have six children. And that’s how I think about this campaign, it’s like my campaign, but it’s about your children. If you don’t have children, they are your nephews and nieces. And that’s why we have to keep the Republican Party from doing nothing, we’re not going to touch your party,” he said.
Steve Laffey (second from right), his wife and six children live in Colorado
Republican candidate Steve Laffey argues that it’s time for Mitch McConnell (left) to retire and said his business expertise is better suited to the presidency than Donald Trump’s (right).
To get his break, Laffey plans to relocate to New Hampshire and work to make his moment in a state where retail politics matter.
“So my goal is to attend one of these debates in New Hampshire, shall we say correctly, and I’m going to go live there,” he said.
Each party sets its requirements for the debate phase, but usually it’s about getting at least 1% in opinion polls. In a small state like New Hampshire, where voters value candidates’ personal conversations, the number is achievable.
Laffey grew up in Rhode Island, attended public school, and became the first member of his family to attend college: Bowdoin College, followed by Harvard Business School.
He went into private business: he was president of the investment bank Morgan Keegan in Tennessee and then went to Stowe, Vermont to start a hedge fund.
In 2000 he returned to his hometown of Cranston and ran for mayor, winning in 2002 and 2004.
He left Rhode Island after his failed run for governor in 2010, when he moved to Colorado with his wife and six children.
“I took my kids to a better life in Colorado,” he said.
In 2014, he attempted to win the GOP nomination for Colorado’s 4th congressional district, but finished fourth.
But he says his time is “now” as he fears the country will hit the financial brink during the 2024 presidential race.
‘And wouldn’t it be better if someone said, you know what, I’m willing to take care of it. In fact, I told you this would happen. And instead of ignoring the problem, let’s find solutions to fix America for our children.’