Pat Toomey Is Surprisingly Moderate

With his calm demeanor and taste for compromise showing in his first term, Senator Toomey is poised to become a national power player. But if you think that means he's lost his inner Tea Partier, you better think again.

TO LOOK AT his background, one would guess Toomey to be a Democrat. He was born the third child in a Catholic family of six, with a union-worker dad (Patrick Sr.) who laid cable for the local electric utility and a mom who answered phones at the neighborhood parish. A portrait of John F. Kennedy hung from the wall in the family kitchen. The Toomeys lived in a densely packed blue-collar suburb just across the narrow Narragansett Bay from Providence, Rhode Island.

By all accounts, the young Toomey was as diligent as he was gifted. He won a scholarship to the elite La Salle Academy in Providence (which counts four U.S. senators among its alumni) and graduated as valedictorian. Already, Toomey says, he was figuring out he didn’t view the world quite the same way as his Democratic dad. When his teachers brought up American culpability in the Cold War, Toomey smelled a bogus moral equivalence. After he graduated and enrolled at Harvard, Toomey recoiled instinctively at the contempt everyone on campus seemed to share for Ronald Reagan.

But it wasn’t until after college, when he took a job as a hot-shot investment b­anker on Wall Street, that Toomey’s ideology firmed up. He was a 24-year-old Master of the Universe dealing in derivatives a qu­arter-
century before the rest of us had even heard the term, and before long, he wedded what he’d learned on the job about the flow of capital and the wealth it created with the pro-market philosophies of Milton Friedman and Hayek. “Reading them, it was like a light went off: Yep, these guys are right,” he says.

In Toomey’s view, taxes (and to some extent the government itself) are the na­tural enemies of prosperity; excessive regulation, entitlement programs, subsidies, tariffs and so on ad infinitum thwart growth, to the expense of all. The economy is best served, Toomey says, when the government regulates as little as possible, spends as little as possible, avoids deficits as much as po­ssible, and generally gets out of the way of the
private sector, including Wall Street.

He bases this in large part on his own experience, which includes the year he spent in Hong Kong researching capital markets for Chinese billionaire Ronnie Chan. “The bank’s attitude was, we’re going to give you a certain amount of capital. Don’t break any laws, don’t break our rules, but otherwise go knock yourself out and make money for the firm,” he says in his office 20 years later. “We had a lot of fun.”

And then, abruptly, Toomey got out of the fast lane. He quit after the 1991 stint in Hong Kong and moved to Allentown, a city he’d never lived in before, to help two of his brothers run a sports bar called Rookie’s with a menu featuring Mexican fiesta dip and fried mozzarella “bats.”

When I ask Toomey what triggered his extreme lifestyle transformation—a fa­mily illness, a girl, a crisis of conscience?—he laughs it off: “You think it’s not a natural sequence? To go from Cambridge to Manhattan to Hong Kong to Allentown?” He knew, vaguely, that he wanted a family, and Allentown seemed a better choice for that than pre-Giuliani New York, where crime was high and Toomey felt constantly assaulted by aggressive squeegee guys and panhandlers.

This seems like a thin reason to trade the jet-setting life of an international investment banker for that of an Allentown restaurateur. But Toomey isn’t the sort to open up about his private life, beyond the surface optics of showing off his handsome family. As I wait outside his office for an interview, Toomey walks out with his adorable two-year-old son Duncan in his arms. Toomey and his wife, Kris—a homemaker who was the childhood friend of one of Toomey’s sisters—have three children. Unlike a lot of senators, Toomey hasn’t moved his family to D.C.; they’re still in Zionsville, a suburb of Allentown. “Since my big guy is here today, I thought I should introduce you,” Toomey says. “Duncan, can you say hi?” Instead, Duncan says, “Mommy.” Half an hour later, Toomey volunteers that “the biggest part of me is my family,” but sputters when asked to elaborate: “It’s just the most important thing. And it’s just where a lot of my time and energy goes.”