The first election that hinged on a tax cut was 1888. The only tax at the time was the Tariff, a tax on imported goods.
President Cleveland wanted to lower the Tariff, telling his advisors, “What’s the use of being elected, or re-elected, unless you stand for something?”
Republican business owners were in favor of a higher tariff, because if the taxes on goods from other countries were high, consumers would buy more local stuff. The problem with that was that it drove up prices, making it more difficult for working Americans to buy things. Cleveland felt that since the current treasury had a $93 million surplus—thanks to the high Tariff—it was time to lower the tax and give something back to the people.
Cleveland was about to find out that standing for something was a risky idea. The Republicans were better organized and had more money. After Cleveland’s nomination, the other side got called to arms. Businessman John Wanamaker wired all of the other rich businessmen: “We need money and we need it quick.”
It worked. The money boys beat Cleveland. Cleveland won the popular vote but Harrison won the Electoral College and that’s what counts.