Why Grover Norquist and His Anti-Tax Pledge Will Survive the Fiscal Cliff

The diminutive ideologue says his no-new-taxes pledge is safe despite recent GOP defections. Voter support, and his own surprising ability to bounce back, suggest he’s right

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Haraz N. Ghanbari / AP

Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Republican members of Congress are abandoning their pledge to never raise taxes, but Grover Norquist says he isn’t worried. The handful of Hill Republicans who have gone wobbly were never reliable and are no threat to the overall project of shrinking government through lower revenue, says Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform and the pledge’s author and driving force. “We’re fine,” he tells TIME. “Those are the same guys you were quoting to me two years ago.”

That’s only partly true. Over the weekend, a handful of Republicans said they would consider abandoning the pledge. Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia told a local TV station, “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.” Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said bluntly that he would break the part of the pledge that protects tax shelters for the rich. Several other Republicans, including Norquist’s archenemy, Senator John McCain, as well as Representative Peter King and Senator Bob Corker, suggested they too might back away from the commitment.

The GOP retreat has raised questions about whether Norquist’s pledge, long a sacred creed for Republicans in Washington, is crumbling. But he is quick to argue that these members of Congress were never true believers. Chambliss “is in a safe district and can say what he wants,” says Norquist. As for Graham, Norquist says he was wobbly two years ago as well and that journalists are just rediscovering an old story.

More worrying for Norquist are the mixed signals being sent by Eric Cantor, the powerful House majority leader who spearheaded resistance to a grand bargain in 2011. On Monday morning, Cantor told MSNBC that pragmatism was more important than the pledge. “When I go to the constituents that have elected, re-elected me, it is not about that pledge,” he said. “It is really about trying to solve problems.”

Norquist says he talks to GOP leaders in the House and that “they don’t intend to raise taxes and they’re looking to get a good deal.” He says he doesn’t think the leaders intend to violate the pledge on deductions, which requires spending cuts for any shrinking of tax loopholes. Republicans and Democrats have recently focused on closing loopholes as a potential way around the pledge.

The pledge is perhaps the most succinct encapsulation of the hard-right fiscal approach of a party that just lost a presidential election. The view holds that government is the problem (for liberty, the economy, society, you name it), and it is best constrained by cutting off its funding, i.e. taxes. Norquist famously said, “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” And he believes unreservedly in the supply-side idea that lower taxes equals greater growth.

Norquist’s sharp tongue and decades-long focus on tax policy make him a target for Democrats who say he has an unnatural stranglehold on the GOP. But it’s the potency of the raising-taxes issue with voters that members of Congress fear, not the diminutive ideologue. You don’t get support from virtually every member of a major political party through the force of your argument in the U.S.; you get it because it’s a winning issue with voters.

Even if Norquist’s pledge is weakened by a grand bargain, he’s likely to bounce back. He survived a much more damaging episode in 2005 when he acted as a pass-through between his old friends Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist, and Ralph Reed, the conservative Christian leader, in their efforts to block a state lottery that would have competed with the interests of one of Abramoff’s clients.

1058 comments
gdapogny
gdapogny

It boggles the mind the3 hold this right-wing lobbyist has on the weak republicans. Who the3 hell is he, anyway. But, oh yes, I forgot: in the word of Warren Buffet, "They're all afraid of the primaries." Well republican folks: that's your party in a nutshell.

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

This comment system is JUST AWFUL. I wish we could go back to Disqus. It had its quirks but was much better. This is like using a typewriter. It is so limiting in every way. The so called "editing tools" are hardly useful when you cannot correct your comments once posted, and have to delete and re post.. This "Dead Fyre" system stinks.

antonmarq
antonmarq

So, here's a guy who knows absolutely nothing about revenues and expenses telling our GOP politicians how to manage moneys. This is like telling a company that the best way to raise revenues is to fire everyone, and watch how the dividend roll in. Yeah, for about a month or two, then bankrupt. On the other-hand, isn't that the way of the GOP!

I wonder how these GOP folks would react if we also removed all the freebie programs they get from government. No more individual state assistance unless it's an emergency. No retirement benefits, no free security details, no nothing. I bet they get a real good sense of the realities we're all facing at the bottom.

jreppoh
jreppoh

What gives Grover Norquist all these rights t? He formed his own group. Then the Republicans fell in love with him and he was not,is has not been voted in by the public. I like our President because he cares for all the country even the 47%. I also like him because he wants peace rather than war. Those tax breaks given to the rich were never suppose to stay they were suppose to bring in more jobs but instead they hide it off shore and houses,auto and islands!II hope we kick every last republican out next election except the ones with common sense. Romney lost because he doesn't understand other people that don't have elevators for their cars!

outsider
outsider

When the Romney campaign seemed to implode in September and the blame game began, lots of blame got dumped on top strategist Stuart Stevens. Not surprisingly, Stevens has penned a defense of his candidate and his campaign – and it’s delusional, divisive and unbelievably stupid.In his Washington Post Op-Ed, “Mitt Romney: A good man. The right fight,” Stevens seems to argue that Romney practically won, because he won a majority of voters who make more than $50,000 a year. “That means he carried the majority of middle-class voters,” Stevens claims. What a skewed, self-serving way of dividing up the world.First of all, the median household income in the U.S. is $50,000; median personal income is around $40,000. So most Americans make less than $50,000; they’re not some tiny fringe group. Also, I’m sure that lots of people who make in the $25,000 to $50,000 range consider themselves middle-class. They’ll enjoy Stevens consigning them to the pool of low-income Obama dependents. And the notion that voters who aren’t middle-class don’t matter is disturbing, but no surprise coming from the guy who backed Mr. 47 Percent.Stevens also consoles himself that where John McCain lost young white voters to Obama in 2008, Romney won them by 7 points in some polls. Wow, that’s some consolation for losing African-Americans, Latinos and Asians by 40 to 90 points. I’m disappointed that President Obama got less of the white vote, and even the white youth vote, than he did in 2008. But after four years of Republicans’ race-baiting and demonizing our first black president, it may be remarkable that he did as well as he did.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

So it's official, Livefyre breaks when we get close to 4 digit comment counts and older posts become simply unreadible

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

Paul you keep calling us "the hive".  Do you appreciate the irony that you are far, far more invested and dependent on posting in Swampland than the rest of us?

paulejb
paulejb

It is amusing that the band of Swampland imbeciles who do the grunt work for the hive mind believe that I care about their opinions. I blame the trend in public education that promotes unearned self-esteem above actual knowledge.

BenevolentLawyer
BenevolentLawyer

@antonmarq This is why most moderates like me will soon be lost to the GOP forever. This cult following of Norquist is another reason, in a long list of reasons the GOP is the party of disconnected and angry old WM. The Norquist pledge??? Who the heck is this foolish man, and who are these dolts that keep worshiping him???

fitty_three
fitty_three

@antonmarq  

Hmmm, And you  don't think that the fact that the Dems are the only one who's run surpluses and the GOP ran up 11 T in debts?

Two quite major holes in your "theory".

paulejb
paulejb

@DonQuixotic ,

I am an army of one. You and your pals are creatures of the hive mind.

Tero
Tero

@paulejb 

You and Grover have no credibility when talking about fantasies.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@paulejb 

You mean the con-man this very article is about isn't taken in by Obama?  Say it ain't so!

Tero
Tero

@paulejb 

They want a balance of spending cuts and tax increases...

Sounds perfectly reasonable... to normal people like me.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@paulejb 

It is amusing that the band of Swampland imbeciles who do the grunt work for the hive mind believe that I care about their opinions. I blame the trend in public education that promotes unearned self-esteem above actual knowledge.

I think that is what Loki said before reality smacked him

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30lGrarz3MQ

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@paulejb 

Generally when entering an argument, one expects their opinions to be taken seriously with the opposition.  If you can't even do that, and even take pride in being childish and unwavering, then what good are you?

Tero
Tero

@paulejb 

Awww poor baby can't take reality... In case you didn't get it by now; we don't care about your opinions either. We all think you are a moron. 

Get it? Good! Now honour your bet and go away.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@Ivy_B

It kills me too.  I'm typing and the window leaps right out from under me.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@DonQuixotic

There's a difference between when Livefyre gets annoying or behaves in a very buggy way and when it actually breaks - as in, trying to load more comments or reload comments makes your browser choke and die.  Or doing some other operation makes your browser choke and die.  I tried to load some of the very old comments on this thread, and Chrome was gasping. I ended up having to kill the tab.

One of those quirky definitions in software: it ain't broken until it's actually unusable (aka: showstopper bug).  If we set the bar any lower, there would be no such thing as functional software.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@paulejb @DonQuixotic 

You didn't answer my question.  You're the only one that posts here with a serious agenda and routine doggedness.

paulejb
paulejb

@Tero @paulejb ,

No. They just want more of other people's money to spend to fund their socialist schemes.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@MrObvious @paulejb 

It's funny that he should talk about "actual knowledge" when he routinely just ignores when he's proven wrong or changes the subject.

Tero
Tero

@DonQuixotic @paulejb 

I love how he thinks that he has some impact or effect on our lives and views. He is just comedy relief. I would be embarrassed if I were him...

paulejb
paulejb

@Tero @paulejb ,

If I worried about that would I continue to enter the fever swamps of the left to expose it's vileness and deceit?

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@53_3 @Ivy_B 

That is REALLY getting annoying - that every time someone makes a post it makes the whole thread they posted in disappear for a moment, so if you happen to be typing a comment in the same thread it disappears for a bit.

fitty_three
fitty_three

I just add mine as text by copying the url and pasting.  I don't try to embed.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@DonQuixotic

paulejb's agenda is routine doggedness.

He's here to irritate, and, by God, he is going to do it! 

I've always contended that he has the ambitions of a scabiid microbe.

Tero
Tero

@paulejb @Tero 

OK you're right. 

I should be concerned about how the GOP is lying and wants to fund their "fascist schemes". 

Is that better? See I can be a brain-dead hyper-partisan moron, just like you.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@paulejb @Tero 

Such as?  I keep asking you to name ONE socialist policy and you keep failing to do so.

Tero
Tero

@paulejb @Tero 

No. They want a balance of spending cuts and tax increases.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@Tero

I didn't even bother to sign on because I knew where paulejb was going with it.  He never intended to actually bet on something that he knew was going to happen.

With paulejb, it's about the shiny.

fitty_three
fitty_three

@DonQuixotic

paulejb's angle was that there would always be someone left out, and no matter how many signed on, he'd have an out by citing the non participation of that person.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@Tero @paulejb 

Paul never actually made the bet.  He kept coping out of it by stating that it had to be with "all the hive", as if that's something that could be quantified.

paulejb
paulejb

@53_3 @paulejb ,

How much honor does it require to deny your reliance on the dole, 53?

Tero
Tero

@paulejb @Tero 

Ya, we all know that you never worry about being honourable... The only thing you are exposing is your stupidity and ability to swallow whatever BS Fox news and the rightwing blogs feed you.