He's been called a powerbroker, a bogeyman and a puppet master, but it's not often anti-tax activist Grover Norquist is characterized as just an ordinary guy.
House Speaker John Boehner did just that at his weekly news conference this morning. Asked whether he thought Norquist, who keeps nearly all Republicans to a pledge never to raise taxes, was a good influence on the party, Boehner didn't acknowledge that Norquist had any influence.
"It's not often I'm asked about some random person in America and what I think," Boehner told reporters.
Boehner is pushing back against a growing theme favored by Democrats – that Norquist and his threat to lash out against pledge violators are preventing Republicans from agreeing to tax increases and doing a deal on the deficit.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid this week declared Norquist the GOP "leader" and Republican lawmakers his puppets. Former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson told the so-called supercommittee this week that "if Grover Norquist is now the most powerful man in America, he should run for president.... There's no question about his power. And let me tell you, he has people in thrall. That's a terrible phrase. Lincoln used it. It means your mind has been captured. You're in bondage with your soul."
Republicans are coming back with a different take. Their souls are not in bondage, they say; they are against tax increases because they think it's bad policy.
Boehner explained Wednesday: "Listen, our focus is on creating jobs, not talking about somebody's personality. Our conference is opposed to tax hikes because we believe that tax hikes will hurt our economy and put Americans out of work."
Norquist endorsed the statement via Twitter: "Boehner is wise," it said.