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
  • Men, their sons and their lawns

    Men, their sons and their lawns

    Along with eye color and a knack for rolling your tongue, an obsession with the grass around your house is hereditary, I have learned. It is also, apparently, a sex-linked gene, because no little girl has ever been born wanting to mow the lawn.

  • Gag order request in Freddie Gray case shows prosecutor's misunderstanding

    Gag order request in Freddie Gray case shows prosecutor's misunderstanding

    The searing spotlight of media scrutiny fell upon a Maryland state's attorney, a rising star in Democratic politics. After a high-profile beating death, the young prosecutor convened a news conference to announce murder charges, detail the evidence and insist that the public's desire for justice...

  • Jeb Bush has bigger problems than Iraq war stumble

    Jeb Bush has bigger problems than Iraq war stumble

    By now everyone has had their say about Jeb Bush's terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. The consensus is that Mr. Bush misheard Megyn Kelly's "knowing what we know now" question about the Iraq war. I'm not convinced.

  • Gov. Hogan's funding games have consequences

    Gov. Hogan's funding games have consequences

    In the last few weeks we've heard much about the neglected and underdeveloped parts of Baltimore and how decades of degradation and neglect played a role in the recent social upheaval and civil unrest. Almost universally we've heard activists, experts and thought leaders tout education as a surefire...

  • Don't give up on Baltimore, Preakness

    Don't give up on Baltimore, Preakness

    There's been talk about moving the Preakness Stakes from Pimlico, which is in my district and has been home to the second leg of The Triple Crown for 140 years, to Laurel. I get it. Pimlico needs work to bring its facility up to par with Laurel Raceway. Laurel is closer to Washington and would...

  • The failed war on drugs continues to amass casualties in Baltimore and beyond

    The failed war on drugs continues to amass casualties in Baltimore and beyond

    As rightly concerned and upset as we are about Freddie Gray's death in police custody, we ought to be just as concerned about the body count that existed prior to his death and has been on the rise ever since (there have been roughtly three dozen homicides in Baltimore since Gray died, not counting...

Comments
Loading

75°