Try digitalPLUS for 10 days for only $0.99

Op-Eds

News Opinion Op-Eds

Grover Norquist: Republican ayatollah

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.

Mr. 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 who made opposition to tax increases the party's central tenet for more than 25 years.

He got 95 percent 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 re-election time on any who failed to keep their 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 January 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.

Mr. 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 Barack Obama. Yet, even Mr. 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 Mr. Norquist might reckon that as heresy, Speaker Boehner said he could not let "some random person" call the shots.

Mr. 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 Mr. 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 nosedive.

Ayatollahs enforce their authority by threat. In the past, Republican candidates were acutely aware of Mr. 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.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to latimes.com/news/politics/topoftheticket/ to see more of his work.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • Could a state property tax cap stimulate Baltimore's economy?

    Could a state property tax cap stimulate Baltimore's economy?

    When Gov. Larry Hogan announced his rejection of the Red Line, an east-west rail transit line in Baltimore City, he seemed to derail the high hopes of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and many other supporters of the $2.9 billion project. "He canceled a project," lamented the mayor, "that would have...

  • Urban America should give up on the Democrats

    Urban America should give up on the Democrats

    In my lifetime (I was born in 1950), the Democrats have had an extraordinary opportunity to run some of America's largest cities and apply their brand of liberal policies to the social and economic problems that have plagued them. Look at the history in just eight of these cities, according to...

  • Inequality of opportunity in the U.S.A.

    Inequality of opportunity in the U.S.A.

    We like to tell ourselves stories about the virtues of America, particularly as Independence Day rolls around each year. There is, perhaps, no better example than the story we tell our children that no matter your race, gender or wealth, in America you can become anything you want to be. This particular...

  • The burdens of being black

    The burdens of being black

    I was born human more than a half century ago but also birthed with the burden of being black. I discovered racial discrimination early in life. I grew up among the black poor in Hartford, where a pattern of housing segregation prevailed. One city, but separated North end and South end on the basis...

  • Partnerships improve health care in Maryland

    Partnerships improve health care in Maryland

    For decades, as health care costs continued to spiral upward and patients were stymied by an increasingly fragmented health care system, policy leaders, politicians and front-line caregivers strained to find a better way to care for people.

  • The deep roots of housing bias

    The deep roots of housing bias

    The Supreme Court's ruling last week that factors other than intentional racial discrimination can be considered in determining whether policies promulgated by government or private entities violate the 1968 Fair Housing Act is simply a reminder that the century-long struggle to end such practices...

Comments
Loading

68°