Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, conservative provocateur and OZY fan, is in the thick of politics more than most. He stopped by OZY once again yesterday to weigh in on a number of things, including his conservative favorites for 2016, President Obama and why he may be on the verge of joining a union.
Keep your eyes trained on Republican governors in 2016.
OZY: Looking ahead, what do you see in on the right side of the aisle in 2016? What’s the state of the Republican Party and who are the most interesting players?
GROVER NORDQUIST: I’d say there are six people today who could storm up on the stage, run for president and fully fund their campaigns from start to finish. These aren’t the people who would get lucky in New Hampshire — these are the people with the name identification, the political support, the background.
- Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey: He’s been wounded, but he’s certainly not finished.
- Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin: This is the guy who sits on a pile of his enemies’ skulls. He’s met every major donor in the country, and he’s someone to watch.
- Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana: He’s Indian-American, with ties to the energy industry. And Indian-Americans are the wealthiest per capita ethnic group in the country.
- Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida: He’s got the Rolodex. He’s spent a competent eight years as governor. He speaks Spanish. And he could step up and you wouldn’t ask what he’s doing on the big stage. He can fund and run a campaign.
- Gov. Rick Perry of Texas: He would have been the nominee already if he hadn’t been taking pain medication for a back operation. And when he’s not taking pain medication for a back operation — which is now — he has the best track record of any governor in modern American history. Texas has done extremely well economically, after all.
- Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky: He’s led the Libertarian wing of the modern Republican party. He’s a foreign policy realist rather than a neoconservative, and brought big ideas to the party that were not obvious focuses in the party already.
OZY: So, you like the look of governors more than senators?
GN: The challenge for a Rubio or a Cruz to run nationally is that they’re senators — and nothing more. Rand is the leader of a national movement and has brought conservatives big ideas from the party. Speeches are nice, but if you’re competing with five governors who can wake up today and do something that nobody else can do — that’s awfully tough. How do you compete with governors?
OZY: Anyone else?
GN: There are a couple of guys in the wings. They may not run in 2016 — it may not be their time, and they’d have to do something really impressive first. There’s Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas and Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana. [Brownback] has cut income taxes and primaried 11 of the moderate liberal Republicans who were voting with unions and trial lawyers and were caucusing with the Democrats.… Roosevelt did the same thing. He did run in 2008, so he has that virus of being interested.
Obama: Abandoning the Democrats in 2014?
GN: And watch Mike Pence, who has a strong legislative body under him — he’s somebody conservatives have been talking about running for president for sometime. People who knew him when he was in the House know him as someone who’s grown-up and serious, somebody who really wanted to change the world rather than sit at a desk — a more disciplined version of Ted Cruz. He does stuff as opposed to just give speeches. And he could have chosen to run for Senate, but he didn’t: He became a governor. It’s a different personality that runs for governor than senator. You want to run things.
OZY: Let’s talk about the State of the Union. What are your reactions?
GN: You know when judges put on a little black hat and they pronounce a death sentence on people? That’s usually a short conversation. This was a 65-minute death sentence of the Democratic Senate. He basically said, “You guys are on your own.” It was a very interesting, self-absorbed effort. There was nothing in there to help any House or Senate guy get re-elected. At a time when he might have made a play to capture the House or not to lose the Senate, it was all about, “I’ve always been right.” So that’s one thing. Two: With the exception of MyRA and a call for Paid Promotion Authority — which are two new ideas, and two good ideas — everything else in there was a retread of five years ago. There wasn’t anything on his list that he could not have passed either by executive order or by law in 2009 or 2010 when he had supermajorities in the House and Senate. If he thought raising the minimum wage would help the economy, he would have done it right away — but he knows it will slow down the economy. And of course, he was trying to change the subject. He didn’t want to talk about Obamacare. Or jobs.
A surprising lefty leaning.
OZY: So, you’re a little bit of an actor on the side.
GN: Yes — on Monday, I will be filmed in Los Angeles for a bit part in Atlas Shrugged Part III . I was in Part II , for a nonspeaking part where I represented the decline of Western civilization. It’s a cameo — I’ll be courier number something. But if I get another speaking role in a film or show, then — according to the rules — I’ll have to join the union.
Why you should care
Because Grover Norquist knows his party — and the country — inside and out. And as he reminded OZY, half of America lives in a state with entirely red leadership. So listen up.