Why you should care
Conservative? You’ll be interested in Norquist’s 2016 picks. Liberal? Here’s what you need to know about conservatives.
In the aftermath of the government shutdown/showdown, public approval ratings for the Republican party are so low that the political terrain may have actually shifted. To gauge whether that is the case, we reached out to conservative kingmaker Grover Norquist, as no one knows more about GOP politics than Norquist, the founder of Americans for Tax Reform and the key force behind the influential Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Norquist grew up in Massaschusetts, holds two degress from Harvard and is an amateur comedian. He recently spoke with Carlos Watson about the GOP’s presidential frontrunners, Ted Cruz’s strategy and what liberals could learn from him and other conservatives. This is a condensed and edited version of that interview.
Guess who won’t lead the next round of budget talks
OZY: John McCain has called the shutdown showdown “a fool’s errand.” Do you agree that it was bad decision on the part of the GOP?
Grover Norquist: I was a critic of walking into a situation where Republicans had a very strong hand, and Ted Cruz and others threw the strong hand away, insisting on negotiating something that couldn’t be achieved, and had to kick the can down the road. Well, now we’re starting again. I think the people who insisted they knew what they were doing will have a hard time participating in leadership roles this time around.
Is the shoe on the other foot?
OZY: What comes next for the GOP?
Norquist: (With the shutdown) it was the Republicans asking for something, wanting a change in the status quo by demanding Obamacare [be defunded]. All the Democratic Senate had to say was no; the President never had to say no, nothing ever came to his desk. Now the President wants something: $1 trillion in tax increases and massive increases in spending. We need to make him say it out loud, in front of cameras, again and again.
Who’s hot, who’s not
OZY: Who are you focused on for 2016? Who gives you excitement?
Norquist: In 2016, you can see five or six successful Republican governors who have governed well and carried the state more than once. Every one of them could raise the money to run a presidential primary race for the Republican party from beginning to end without having to get lucky. They could stay in the race from start to finish.
- Scott Walker (Governor of Wisconsin) – made dramatic changes in public sector labor unions and education reform.
- Jeb Bush (two-term Governor of Florida) – significant education and economic reforms.
- Rick Perry (four-term Governor of Texas) – faltered in 2012, but will have been governor for 14 years, a wildly successful governor in terms of job creation.
- Chris Christie (Governor of New Jersey) – would be re-elected strongly, and has had tremendous success even with Democratic legislators.
- Bobby Jindal (Governor of Louisiana) – Louisiana was a Democratic state and now is a top to bottom Republican state.
OZY: You did not mention our Canadian-born friend Ted Cruz. Why not?
Norquist: Cruz is famous for having put foward the idea that if the House would simply vote to abolish Obamacare, he would make the Democratic Senate vote that as well. His introduction to the American people was to have insisted on a strategy that failed grandly, that upon inspection was fatally flawed from the beginning and had no prospect of winning. He was demanding a strategy that could not win, because he couldn’t get six or 16 Democrats to agree. And in fact he made no effort to get a single Democrat to agree.
What liberals should know about conservatives
OZY: What do liberals and progressives not know that you think is important for them to hear directly from a conservative leader like yourself?
Norquist: Progressives do not understand the modern Republican Party. They think they’re combating some caricature. The modern Republican Party is a coalition of groups whose vote-moving issue is this: What I want from the government is to be left alone. Taxpayers: let me lower my taxes. Gun owners: leave my 2nd amendment rights alone. Homeschoolers: let me educate my own children. All the various communities of faith: let me practice my faith and transmit it to my children and stay out of that part of my life. When the left doesn’t understand that, they misunderstand opportunities for progress where you can have bipartisan achievement.
Comedy and taxes
OZY: Let’s take a step back and help people who don’t know you personally understand how you came to this line of work.
Norquist: Well I was interested in politics early on. My parents were not particularly active. They were Rockefeller Republicans – they voted for Rockefeller as opposed to Goldwater – but are now more Reagan Republicans, and have moved as the party did. I think it came from reading history books and constantly looking at what works. And then learning that you didn’t need a license to practice politics. I had an opportunity upon graduating from college to become the associate director of the national taxpayers union. I believed even at that early age that the tax issue was the central question facing the relationship between the citizen and the state. I start from the tax issue as the place where I’ve kept both of my feet planted.
OZY: Rumor has it that you’ve got a comedic streak. You won a comedy showcase recently?
Norquist: Yes, it’s called Funniest Celebrity in D.C. It’s on YouTube. I did well, I came in first. I defeated a dear friend, a guy I convinced to join the competition this time, Mr. Ralph Nader. I’m a talent scout for the comedy show… If I could manufacture 20 good Steven Wright lines, I would die happy.