Last night on “The Last Word” on MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell interviewed Grover Norquist, the steely-eyed, grim faced godfather of the Republican Party.
Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform – the older, brickbat-wielding cousin of the Club For Growth 527 group from whence Pennsylvania Senator Pat Toomey and WSJ columnist Stephen Moore sprang; makes Republicans sign a kind of pledge of omerta — never to ever raise taxes, even if that means hanging onto noxious subsidies to Big Oil and for ethanol. And when he feels they have strayed from what he calls their “pledge to the American people” — which again, is actually a pledge to Grover Norquist — he gets really mad. And when Grover gets mad, things get ugly, with the offender liable to wind up facing a GOP primary.
Here’s what Michael Scherer wrote about Norquist and ATR back in 2004:
Grover G. Norquist is in fine form as he warms up the crowd at his Wednesday morning meeting. The conference room at Americans for Tax Reform headquarters is packed on this cool October day, and Norquist, ATR’s president, jokes about the “fun-filled, star-studded” agenda in store. Why wouldn’t he be in good spirits? The invitation-only meetings Norquist hosts have become a hot ticket for Washington’s conservative in crowd, the place for GOP players to brainstorm, swap intelligence, and see and be seen. The 100-plus people who come each week are the powers who run the federal government—congressmen, lobbyists, senior White House and Senate staffers, industry-group leaders, and right-wing policy wonks. “Everybody there has some sort of entrée,” says conservative activist Peter Ferrara, a longtime attendee. “When the White House sits down and says, ‘We want to get the word out on something,’ the top of the list is Grover.”
Norquist, the master of ceremonies, sits in the middle of the room, a microphone pinned to his tie. Stout and bearded, with rosy cheeks, he calls on speakers in his eager, nasal voice, cutting off ramblers and keeping the proceedings on track. There is no time for canned political rhetoric. The focus is on winning. Here, strategy is honed. Talking points are refined. Discipline is imposed. “It’s the most powerful, nihilistic movement in Washington today,” says Ralph Nader, who recently attended one of Norquist’s meetings to give his views on corporate welfare. “It is such a cold-blooded atmosphere it would sustain icicles.”
The same spirit that chills Nader warms the heart of Norquist. When he founded his weekly Wednesday meeting in 1993, its numbers rarely brooked a dozen. “It was like a conservative version of Seinfeld,” says an attendee of those early meetings, “with people double-dipping into the bagels and cream cheese.” But conservatives, with Norquist as one of their pre-eminent strategists, have since overtaken the capital. Once a consigliere to Newt Gingrich, Norquist now has the ear of Karl Rove, the president’s top political adviser, who has been known to stop in at the Wednesday meetings. In turn, Norquist plays the role of national ward boss, delivering the coalition that has rallied around the president’s policy agenda.
Norquist calls it the “Leave-Us-Alone Coalition,” a grouping of gun owners, the Christian right, homeschoolers, libertarians, and business leaders that he has almost single-handedly managed to unite. The common vision: an America in which the rich will be taxed at the same rates as the poor, where capital is freed from government constraints, where government services are turned over to the free market, where the minimum wage is repealed, unions are made irrelevant, and law-abiding citizens can pack handguns in every state and town. “My ideal citizen is the self-employed, homeschooling, IRA-owning guy with a concealed-carry permit,” says Norquist. “Because that person doesn’t need the goddamn government for anything.”
Few in American politics are as blunt about their plans. “If the American people really want to know what George W. Bush is up to, the best place to look is the candor of Grover Norquist,” says Ralph G. Neas, president of People for the American Way. Norquist is not above equating tax collection with a street mugging, or suggesting that arguments for higher taxes on rich people echo the ones Nazis used to justify their targeting of Jews. “Bipartisanship is another name for date rape,” he told a reporter in May, borrowing a phrase from former House Majority Leader Dick Armey. He likes to say he wants to shrink the size of government in half over the next 25 years “to get it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” …
And Norquist means to enforce that vision, by staring down any Republican in state or federal office who tries to tackle “revenues.” He’s confident enough in his power to declare on MSNBC last night, and in every interview he does, that “tax increases are off the table.”
In 2004, as today, Norquist had gotten most elected Republicans in Washington to sign his tax pledge, up to and including President George W. Bush. He’s got all 41 GOP Senators in his ledger, plus nearly every, if not all, of the Republican members of the House. (Norquist does have his enemies — Frank Gaffney, who we’ve got to stipulate is nuts, thinks he’s a Muslim Brotherhood sleeper agent, and Tucker Carlson of all people once called him a mean-spirited, dishonest, humorless little creep. But that hasn’t diminished Norquist’s influence.)
The question of the day is, are there any Republicans on Capitol Hill with the stones to defy Norquist? Can Democrats simply wait them out by refusing to take action on the Bush tax cuts at the end of 2012, thus forcing tax rates to return to the Clinton era?
And just how did one man accumulate so much unelected power?