By Dana Milbank
WASHINGTON — Some prominent Republicans — among them House Speaker John Boehner, publisher Bill Kristol and Sen. Bob Corker — have been making noise about the need for the GOP to be flexible about raising taxes.
But the keeper of the Pledge is not concerned. Grover Norquist, the party’s Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, says he sees no chance of Republicans going squishy.
“The Rs are holding,” he announced at a luncheon Monday of the Center for the National Interest.
“The fantasy is that the Republicans would cave on marginal tax rates — they’re non-negotiable,” he added.
In fact, Norquist maintained, if you think there’s any erosion of support for his Pledge, which forbids any net increase in taxes, Norquist would like you to know something. “You’re mistaken,” he said. “The entire Republican leadership has been elected on that commitment in the House and the Senate.”
In fact, despite all this talk of Republicans compromising, it is pretty clear to Norquist what is really going to happen: President Obama “will eventually have to extend the tax cuts as is.”
Listening to these confident assertions, the simple conclusion would be that Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, had been on a long trip in a remote location. More likely, the answer involves the substantial amount of trauma inflicted on Norquist’s worldview in the election.
Just a few months ago, he predicted to me with confidence that his goals of the past quarter-century were about to be realized: Mitt Romney would win the presidency, Republicans would seize the Senate, and the unified Republican government would quickly pass Paul Ryan’s budget, including a complete reworking of entitlement programs.
But instead of laying siege to Washington, he is now leading a rear-guard action to prevent defections. His defense of the Pledge seems to be a mixture of improbable optimism (he maintained that Republicans are “much closer” to smaller government than before) and implied threats (“Republicans who raise taxes do their own brand a great deal of damage, particularly if they put in writing to their constituents that’s not who they are or what they do”).
He assured the old guard at the center-right think tank (25 of the 26 at the horseshoe table were men) that the Democratic wins this month did not mean a rejection of his Pledge. It’s “a little tough to see a strong mandate here,” Norquist argued. “The president won a mandate not to be Romney for the next four years, because Romney gives people cancer and is a bad person and is mean to dogs.” Further, he argued, Obama “dropped, what, 8 million votes from the time before, the margin he got was shrinking, he was the incumbent, he ran a better campaign and we had a candidate who had myriad flaws.”
Also, the dog ate Norquist’s homework.
The Republicans, by contrast, “have a likely 10-year run in the House because of redistricting,” and plenty of time to get the job done. “You’ve got a Republican Party that not only touched the third rail of Republican politics but fondled it at great length and didn’t end up where all the smart people knew where you’d end up.”
The task for these rail fondlers, he said, is to “keep Obama on a short leash and give him an allowance every few months in return for better behavior, as you do with your kids.” Norquist couldn’t quite settle on a metaphor for Obama, because he viewed him not only as a dog and a child but also as a lame duck.
Was he concerned that Republican Sens. Corker, John McCain and Tom Coburn have been hinting at higher tax revenue?
Norquist said none of them “are considered thought leaders on economic issues.”
And Kristol? His thoughts are “not at all transferable” to Republican lawmakers.
Isn’t there mounting pressure for a “grand bargain” of tax increases and spending cuts?
“It’s an odd prediction,” Norquist said, predicting that automatic “sequester” cuts would take effect.
At one point, he seemed to soften his line, saying that to increase tax receipts, “I’d rather do that from growth than from higher taxes.”
Rather? So he might consider higher taxes?
Norquist assured me that there was no change, that there would be no tax increase of any sort and that he had not gone squishy.
“No,” he pledged, “and neither have the modern Rs.”
Dana Milbank is a Washington Post columnist. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.