Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of speaking with business entrepreneur Jon Taffer, host of Bar Rescue on Spike. He had just spoken at the Defending the American Dream Summit in Columbus, Ohio. It was his first political event and probably not his last considering how much he enjoyed it. You can find my write up at weeklystandard.com. Below, however, you can find our entire unedited exchange on the phone. Enjoy.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 25, 2015, 12:15 p.m.
VM: Did AFP come to you? Did they offer you honorarium? Did you know who they were and what they do? Or did they have to explain a bit about their message to get you on board?
JT: They came to me. They offered me an honorarium. I was lightly familiar with the organization. Of course I did my homework. And I share common platforms with them as came out in the speech, particularly with regard to small businesses, and I wanted to provide what I felt was a policy speech and not so much a political one. And I put together a speech that I believe I could have given at a conservative or liberal, Democrat or Republican event. And I really focused on that policy rather than any party and I hope that came out that way.
VM: You seemed very on message and connected with the audience. It’s a speech I assume that you’ve given before in various forms. But was this the first politically connected event you’ve done? I mean, I think you might’ve been the only nonelected person on stage at that summit.
JT: I was. I was the only nonelected person there. Most of them as you know are candidates. Yeah, that was the first—other than ranting in my living room after watching—it was the first political speech I’ve ever given.
VM: How did it feel?
JT: Oh, it felt fantastic. You know, honestly, I feel like I have a message. I feel I’m extremely passionate about that message and I feel I have a platform and honestly I’m hoping that I can develop a relationship with whoever the candidate is and be a voice of that platform. And that can make a difference and I’m really committed to doing something.
VM: Listening to your speech on YouTube, you don’t waste any time—as usual, you get right to the point. It’s the problem of big government, federal regulators, and busybody bureaucrats. What is it about these guys that drives you crazy?
JT: They don’t understand business. And the choices sometimes just defy logic. And I had a really moving experience. I was shooting Bar Rescue in Youngstown, Ohio, for two weeks. And I mentioned it slightly at the beginning of my speech. I mean, you know how I do my demographics, Vic. The median household income was $14,000 a year. I had to go three miles out to get to $22,000 a year in median income. I mean, downtown is gutted. Nobody is investing. No big corporation’s going to come in and resolve this and I spent the whole day with the mayor and it was incredibly moving. But what bothered me was it was so illogical, it so slapped any premise of logic, economics, motivation, stimulation. It slaps it all in the face. And it’s astonishing to me that we can’t be more practical—forget politics, just more practical in our regulatory and political choices.
VM: You also mention Obamacare. You’re not a fan. You think it’s a hindrance to small business as well.
JT: I do. But I think as I said in the speech there are two major issues. I think half of America, from a small business standpoint, still doesn’t understand it. They still don’t quite know what it’s going to mean, what it’s going to do there. They think as bad as the economic impact is, people think it’s worse. To this day, they’ve never made small business comfortable with it. And there are people I believe every day that are not pulling that trigger of starting their own business because of this fear, and it’s still there, and it’s amazing to me that after all these years that that fear of the unknown is still there. And our politicians have failed completely in making the unknown known.
VM: I think part of the fear is that the Obamacare bills have been kicked down the road—we haven’t had to pay for any of it yet.
JT: You bet. You bet. And let’s face it—this is not the highest trust time for our political leaders. So we know there are bona fide things we should be fearful of that are coming down the pike. But I think the average American now worries about what they didn’t tell us. And that’s a discussion in itself that’s horrifying.
VM: So what’s the solution? Any solution for what’s ailing this country? What is it we need?
JT: You know, we recognize that schoolchildren need school supplies. And we recognize in many places in America that every August we have to do something for families to make certain that they can get the supplies they need for school, so there are many places that eliminate sales taxes for a period of time, over clothes and certain things—you know what I’m referring to there. And I find it interesting that as a society we can step up and turn our back on all those sales taxes because of education.
How about if we turned our back on small business taxes, created federal enterprise zones, if you will, and created a moratorium on small business taxes for businesses that do under $2 million a year, are truly owned by individuals—not corporations—have under 50 employees, and they’re going to be built in a downtown or economically hungry area that if we set not partial—not 80 percent—a complete tax moratorium on those entities for one, two, or three years, what would that do to small-town America? Suddenly rather than people saying, “I’m going to wait another year and see what shakes out with Obamacare” and everything, they would say, “We should start our business now and take advantage of the full tax opportunity.” We would have businesses opening in months.
And when we look at the economic impact of the relief that we give in other ways, this to me seems a no-brainer. What we could accomplish in three years, with the tax moratorium on new small businesses, I think could be remarkable. And the economic impact, I believe, would be extremely manageable compared with other programs.
And I’m being aggressive. But I’ve learned in my life, Vic—excuse me for the long answer—if I do two-for-one cocktails or a moderate, or a slightly incentivized offer, I’ll get 10 people to come. But if I give away free chicken wings all afternoon, they’ll line up around the block. We need to be bold. I want them to line up around the block and open businesses, not four people walk up.
VM: Did you run any of this by the presidential candidates? Anyone you like?
JT: I did not. We came in and out of green rooms at separate times, so I did not. And honestly, between you and me, I’m surprised I haven’t heard from any of them….
I like a number of them. I’m not certain who’s electable and who isn’t. You know what’s interesting—this is a sideline—I went on the Stuart Varney show about six months ago, and I said that Hillary Clinton was unelectable. I used the word “Nixonian.” I used the word “coverup.” I said the coverup would be greater than the crime. And Varney looked at me like I was crazy. I just thought I’d mention that, between you and me as friends. And I did on the air, by the way.
You know, I like Trump for a couple of reasons. Here’s my feeling: I really don’t want to elect someone who owes favors all over town. And 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. Three generations of indebtedness and favors to people scares the hell out of me at this time in our history.
So, names aside, I’m hung up on hiring a politician who’s too entrenched right now. And I believe our next president should owe a minimal favors. And I think America speaks in the same focus. Look at the candidates who are leading—the least political history and connections. So, I’m one of those. And when I look at Trump, I’m not sure I’d vote for him for president, but I think his approach right now … but I also think the fact that he doesn’t owe anybody anything is very appealing to America.
VM: You’ve got a loyal following, a cult following, a hit TV show. So … have you given any thought to running for president?
JT: No…. But I would certainly get involved and contribute to whatever is necessary.
You know one thing did happen at AFP. Cruz spoke after me and he did use the words “small business” two times in his speech and I can’t help but wonder if that was in there prior to the speech. But if I had created any part in getting him to say those two words …
But I’ve gotta tell you. If a candidate puts together a small business platform, I’ll go out on the road for him. You know, I’ll support him. I’ve got a good millennial base that I think can bring some voters, but I’ve got to believe in their platform because of small business.
VM: So no one’s asked you to run?
JT: There are posters online. And there’s a viral thing that’s been going on about running for president. Of course, I get a kick out of it, Vic. And between you and me, I think I can do a far better job than the people in the White House who do it. You know, I’d be more inclusive. I’d get in the car, I’d drive to Capitol Hill, I’d walk up those stairs, and I’d break down … And that’s the kind of president that I think we need. They don’t come to him. I’m going to come to them.
If I was president, I would get in the car, I’d go to Capitol Hill, I’d go up those stairs, and … I’d say, “I’m not leaving until we fix something.”
VM: Your life must be so changed now since 2011.
JT: Yeah, it is, you know. The show’s rankings are stronger than ever. I’m doing live back-to-the-bars now in front of a live audience. I signed another development deal with the network for another show. I have two others in production. And you’re right. You and I spoke years ago. I thought I was going to make a TV show and go home. I’m still doing it, Vic….
Now, about a year ago, I realized, okay, I’m not going so quick. Now I had to modify the rest of my life to fit into my TV world rather than the other way around.
VM: What can we expect next from you and the show?
JT: Well, you know, we’re doing these live shows now, which are really, really exciting. We’re shooting them now. I just signed to do 20 more Bar Rescues. And we’re mixing up the format constantly and as long as people keep wanting to watch for me, honestly, the hug at the end means more to me than the check, Vic. And that’s where I’m at with it. And as long as I can keep getting that hug and helping people and saving jobs, it’s really hard to stop doing it.