Grover Norquist is losing his grip.
It once seemed as if Washington's most powerful anti-tax crusader had the
Some of them even signed Norquist's vow in public ceremonies, then gave him the originals to store in the vault of his group, Americans for Tax Freedom. The best signatures went on the office wall like trophies.
Norquist's power came from a threat that he didn't hesitate to brandish: Any member of Congress who broke the pledge would be called to account before voters, preferably in a GOP primary against someone more reliable.
But an increasing number of Republicans are sidling away from Norquist's pledge and reassessing their resistance to any kind of tax increase. Before this month's election, Norquist counted 238 members of the
Some of Norquist's signers lost their seats. Some newly elected Republicans say they see no reason to sign a formal pledge on taxes. And at least six House members who once signed say they no longer consider themselves bound by it.
Even more striking, an increasing number of prominent Republicans are dismissing Norquist as a pest. House Speaker
Not surprisingly, Norquist is fighting back. He says he's confident that the Republican leadership in Congress is still committed to rejecting any net increase in taxes. And when I asked him this week about his critics in the
Moreover, when he was asked about the signs that Republicans are wavering — like Boehner's signals that he is ready to accept increased revenue as part of a fiscal compromise — Norquist simply denied any threat.
"The Rs are holding," he insisted at a meeting sponsored by a predominantly conservative think tank, the Center for the National Interest. "The fantasy is that the Republicans would cave on marginal tax rates," he said. "They're nonnegotiable."
It's true that Republicans have held firm so far against
And those are violations of Norquist's pledge too. The pledge explicitly rules out "any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates." In other words, any change in the tax law that increases federal revenue is out.
Lately, however, more Republicans are concluding that increasing revenue is the price of a deal with Obama to avoid the brutal combination of tax increases and spending cuts scheduled to take effect next year if Congress doesn't act. Even Senate GOP leader
Norquist isn't buying that strategy. The GOP has succeeded for a generation by fighting constantly for lower taxes, he argues. "Republicans who raise taxes do their own brand a great deal of damage," he said.
As for the exit polls that appeared to show a majority of voters on Nov. 6 supported Obama's position on taxes, Norquist has a one-word answer: "Wrong." Plenty of other polls, he says, show that people still don't like the idea of taxes going up, he said.
Norquist insists that if Republicans will only hold firm in the coming negotiations, the president will fold, as he did in 2010. Obama "will eventually have to extend the tax cuts as is," he said.
It's no surprise that Norquist isn't embracing a compromise that would raise taxes. His mission in life is to reduce taxes and shrink the federal government. But even he can't ignore the signs that his hold is slipping.
Norquist's power has derived mostly from the threat that he would expose tax-raisers to their constituents, who would then express their anger at the polls. But that threat seems emptier now because of a handful of Republicans like
And on election day, he won reelection easily.