"Who's afraid of Grover Norquist?" asks John Avlon at CNN. "Fewer and fewer Republicans, thankfully." As negotiations over the dreaded "fiscal cliff" get started in earnest, "the declarations of independence from Norquist's absolutist anti-tax pledge have been coming fast and furious." Norquist, the head of anti-tax lobbying group Americans for Tax Reform, has been getting Republicans to sign "The Pledge" — a vow to oppose not just any tax rate increase, but also any measures to increase tax revenue — since 1986. "Norquist's hold on the GOP has been loosening as congressional leaders recognize that this extreme, unelected activist is helping to hold a balanced bipartisan deal hostage." Good riddance. "The only pledge members of Congress should take is the Pledge of Allegiance."
"Mutiny! Dissension in the ranks! A break in vows to the almighty Norquist!" says Jena McGregor at The Washington Post. The real test will be if any of the Republicans who are publicly challenging Norquist — so far, four GOP senators and a handful of influential congressmen — actually vote to increase taxes, be it through closing loopholes, as they propose, or raising tax rates on the wealthiest 2 percent, as President Obama and the Democrats are demanding. But Grover is treading on thin ice.
All it will take is a few powerful Republicans to actually break the pledge, and the wall will come tumbling down. The pledge's strength — and Norquist's power — lies in its universal acceptance among powerful Republicans. If that falls, so does Norquist.
Boy, "listening to Democrats and the media, you could be forgiven for thinking the point of a deal over the looming 'fiscal cliff' wouldn't be to reduce the deficit so much as to reduce the influence of one man," says Rich Lowry at National Review. Nominal Republican Matthew Dowd, for example, called Grover "an impediment to good government," adding: "The only good thing about Grover Norquist is that he was named after a character from Sesame Street." This gleeful "anti-Norquist pile-on" from the Right is baffling. Opposing taxes is now "GOP orthodoxy" — in fact, the "Republican brand is dependent on its status as the anti-tax party." Republicans may have to make a deal with Obama — no deal, everyone's taxes go up — but "Grover will make it as painful as possible for them to do it," as he should.
For the record, Norquist says he is "officially not worried" about Republicans jumping ship, says John Stanton at BuzzFeed. And he probably shouldn't be. "No pledge taker has voted for a tax increase," he noted Monday on CNN. "You've had some people discussing impure thoughts on national television," but talk is cheap; facing a GOP primary opponent isn't. Norquist can also rest easy in that most of the pooh-poohing of his pledge is coming from Republicans in the Democrat-controlled Senate, says John Dickerson at Slate. "In this drama, being a senator is not very important." All the action is in the House, and barring a sweet deal from Obama, the GOP-ruled House won't vote to raise tax rates and may not even support closing loopholes.
Norquist is right that "people have been calling for the end of the pledge for a very long time without success," says Henrik Temp at the American Enterprise Institute's AEIdeas. But this time is different. Obama just won re-election promising to raise taxes on the rich, and two-thirds of Americans support that idea. Also, at least a sizable plurality of voters will blame the GOP if we slide off the fiscal cliff. The final nail in the pledge's coffin, though, might be our dire fiscal situation. "The gargantuan nature of our problems will force lawmakers to consider policies which they never would have embraced in the good years. Tax hikes are one of these." After 26 fruitful years, Grover's "pledge might be toast."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- The Hobbit: A disappointing set of movies, but a worthy set of prequels
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Dick Cheney's America is an ugly place
- America is building a Sunni army in Iraq to take on the Islamic State
- The liberation of Barack Obama
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- How to make the ultimate grilled cheese
- The age of miracles is over — even for the religious
Subscribe to the Week