Tax Analysts Blog

Grover May Be Over But Antitax Republicans Aren't

Posted on Nov 27, 2012

Long the object of liberal scorn, Grover Norquist is now the source of left-leaning glee. In recent weeks, the polarizing president of Americans for Tax Reform has struggled with a series of defections from his famous anti-tax manifesto, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge. Which has got a lot of media types wondering: Is the Age of Grover finally over?

Not likely.

For more than 20 years, Norquist has been the chief enforcer of Republican antitax purity. He has made the Taxpayer Protection Pledge -- which commits signers to oppose "any and all" rate increases as well as "any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits" not immediately offset by rate cuts -- a fixture of fiscal politics. As the ATR website accurately boasts, "the pledge has become de rigeur for Republicans seeking office, and is a necessity for Democrats running in Republican districts." According to ATR, 219 members of the House and 39 senators have taken the pledge.

In theory, at least, those numbers might be changing. Several Republican lawmakers have recently declared their independence from the pledge, and Grover's grip on GOP tax policy seems to be loosening.

But only barely. Norquist himself has pointed out that "the media keeps interviewing the same five or so Republicans in Congress who want to cut a deal.” He's understating the severity of his problem, but he's still got a point. The vast majority of his pledge signers are still on board, even if a few high-profile Republicans are looking for some wiggle room.

In trumpeting the decline of Norquist's power, his critics are making a classic mistake: They are fixating on the expression of a political movement rather than its cause.

Norquist has made his name synonymous with the antitax agenda, but he didn't invent it. And his downfall won't destroy it. The GOP's embrace of antitax ideology was a broad sociopolitical phenomenon, driven by many abstract forces, including the long-term development of the federal welfare state, the changing nature of state and local tax systems, and the sociocultural upheavals of the 1960s. Ronald Reagan rode the antitax bandwagon into the White House a full five years before Norquist even founded ATR, and even Reagan was an instrument of the antitax revolution, not its instigator.

Norquist's genius was devising a way to systematize and sustain the antitax politics that emerged organically from American society in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. He was, and is, a consumate political insider, and he has done much to earn his reputation as the human face of instransigence and legislative gridlock.

But ultimately, the times made the man, not the reverse. Norquist just knew how to make the most of his times.

Read Comments (1)

David BrunoriNov 27, 2012

That was among the most thoughtful pieces I have read on the Norquist
situation. Norquist represents a political philosophy of limited government
manifested through anti-tax politics. There will be people who share those
beliefs long after Grover has left the limelight.

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