Anti-tax evangelist Grover Norquist, one of Washington’s most influential figures, is facing an apparent erosion of his power as leading Republicans begin opting out of pledges to his cause.
Norquist has amassed considerable clout over the last couple of decades by managing to get hundreds of Republicans in elective office to sign a controversial pledge vowing never to vote for a tax increase.
However, there was growing feeling on Sunday that the anti-tax crusader and his pledge were quickly becoming irrelevant as several party bigwigs said they would abandon the vow and analysts openly questioned his continued relevance.
“Grover Norquist is an impediment to good governing,” Republican political strategist Matthew Dowd told ABC television’s This Week program.
“The only good thing about Grover Norquist is, he’s named after a character from Sesame Street,” Dowd said.
“I think Grover Norquist’s sell-by date has passed,” said another longtime political observer, Joe Klein of Time magazine.
Norquist, who heads the Americans for Tax Reform group, began collecting signatories to his pledge more than 20 years ago, gathering the names of politicians no less powerful than Mitt Romney, the recently vanquished Republican presidential candidate.
Signatories to Norquist’s “Taxpayer Protection Pledge” agreed to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses.”
They also promised to “oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
A longtime Washington player, Norquist is a Harvard MBA and trained economist whose rock-solid Republican credentials include membership on the board of the National Rifle Association and the American Conservative Union.
He founded Americans for Tax Reform in 1985, and the group’s Web site says that in the current legislature there are 238 House of Representatives members and 41 senators who have taken the pledge, as well as 13 governors and 1,244 state legislators.
Any Republican lawmaker who breaks the no-taxes vow faces the opprobrium of their party and a probable primary challenge from a more hardline opponent who can be counted on to toe the party line.
However, prominent Republican Senator Saxby Chambliss said last week that even a possible future election challenge was not enough to convince him to stick to his promise.
“I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge,” Chambliss told a Georgia television station last week.