Opinion Top of the Ticket

Grover Norquist, GOP ayatollah, is losing his grip on the party

Ayatollahs seem to just appoint themselves and then start enforcing their own brand of orthodoxy. Grover Norquist has been doing that in the Republican Party for years.

Norquist has never been elected to anything. Nobody ever said he should be in charge of the GOP’s true religion (although he claims President Ronald Reagan urged him to found his lobbying group, Americans for Tax Reform). But he certainly has been the Republicans’ key political theologian, making opposition to tax increases the party’s central tenet for more than 25 years.

He got 95% of Republican candidates for Congress, the presidency and state offices to sign a pledge never to raise taxes and he enforced it by getting retribution at reelection time on anyone who failed to keep the promise. Now, though, he is facing a dramatic rebellion in the ranks. The country is teetering on the so-called fiscal cliff thanks to Republican-backed legislation from 2011 that will automatically begin slashing the federal budget and raise taxes on Jan. 1 if an alternative plan is not adopted by Congress. This has everyone a bit freaked out, including quite a few GOP senators and representatives who have expressed a willingness to consider revenue increases for the sake of making a budget deal with the Democrats.

CARTOONS: Top of the Ticket

Norquist calls such ruminations “impure thoughts.” He has said anyone who thinks them is “an idiot” and has warned that those who abandon the pledge will pay at the polls. Speaker of the House John Boehner continues to take a no-tax-increase stance and he is the Republicans’ key player in this confrontation with President Obama. Yet, even Boehner has opened a tiny bit of wiggle room by saying more revenue could be found by closing loopholes and trimming deductions. When asked if Norquist might reckon that as heresy, Boehner said he could not let “some random person” call the shots.

Norquist has never been random -- he has been the specific guy who kept Republican officeholders in line. He is still trying to play that role, insisting that his guys will hold firm while the president caves under pressure and allows all the Bush era tax cuts to live on. But Obama never has to run for office again. He has political capital to burn while plenty of Republicans know they will inherit a heap of blame if a deal is not reached and the economy goes into a nose dive. 

Ayatollahs enforce their authority by threat. In the past, Republican candidates were acutely aware of Norquist’s clout and avoided crossing him. Today, the bigger threat may be what will happen if they fail to reach a budget compromise. The election of 2012 revealed a country in transition and polls repeatedly show a big majority of voters would not be offended if the richest Americans got bumped up to the tax rates they paid in the Clinton years. Minds may be changing and, if the faithful no longer heed his call, Ayatollah Norquist will be demoted to just another Beltway lobbyist.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Despite storms and floods, humans willingly ignore global warming
    Despite storms and floods, humans willingly ignore global warming

    What do Manhattan and Miami have in common with ancient Pompeii? They are doomed places where the residents cannot imagine that the good times will ever end.

  • The greedy hordes of Black Friday are now plundering Thanksgiving
    The greedy hordes of Black Friday are now plundering Thanksgiving

    Admittedly, I am a guy who generally dreads the thought of plodding through a shopping mall on any day of the year, but to me the encroachment of Black Friday into Thanksgiving evening seems not only insane but also disturbingly unpatriotic.

  • Would it hurt City Hall to look into rise in worker injury claims?
    Would it hurt City Hall to look into rise in worker injury claims?

    The cost of paying salaries to Los Angeles civilian workers who are temporarily disabled because they have been hurt on the job has gone up 50% over five years, reaching $18 million last year. Employees are claiming more injuries and taking longer injury leaves. City officials don't know why...

  • Should non-citizens in the U.S. vote?
    Should non-citizens in the U.S. vote?

    As of Jan. 1, 2012, an estimated 13.3 million lawful permanent residents lived in the United States, and 8.8 million of them were eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship but had not done so. In California, 2.48 million out of 3.4 million green-card holders were eligible to apply but chose not...

  • Obama's fourth-quarter foreign policy surprises
    Obama's fourth-quarter foreign policy surprises

    Six months ago, President Obama's foreign policy looked stymied. Negotiations with Israel and the Palestinians were at a dead end. Russia was gaining ground in eastern Ukraine. U.S. efforts to end the war in Syria were ineffective. A new extremist army, Islamic State, was marching into Iraq.

  • Ukraine should put Russia to the test
    Ukraine should put Russia to the test

    Ukraine is now strong enough to seize the initiative to create a lasting cease-fire in its Donbas Rust Belt, currently occupied by Russia and its proxies. And Russia may be weak enough to be receptive. It is in Kiev's interest to do so. A state of permanent war with Russia would damage...

Comments
Loading