Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, spoke at American University on Thursday, November 11. Mr. Norquist, who founded Americans for Tax Reform at President Reagan’s request in 1985, spent his earlier days as executive director of the national College Republicans and the National Taxpayers Union. In addition, he serves on the board of directors of the NRA and American Conservative Union and most recently joined the Advisory Council of GOProud. If you’d like to know more about Mr. Norquist, do what I did and read his Wikipedia page; Mr. Norquist himself stated that Wikipedia is more accurate than Nina Easton’s book about him.
After a brief introduction, Mr. Norquist took to the podium and began what I would call an engaging, insightful, and humorous address.
To start off, he described the coalition of interests that makes up the modern-day Republican Party. Although the different groups (social conservatives, gun rights supporters, fiscal conservatives, etc.) don’t necessarily agree on a complete political manifesto, they stick together because they agree on a fundamental point: They want to be left alone.
Some say “tax me less”, others “regulate me less”, “let me keep my guns”, or “don’t seize my property on some stupid eminent domain canard.” Conservatives don’t have to agree on all the issues, just that more freedom is better than less. The modern Republican Party exists because the coalition votes for the candidates who agree to leave everyone alone.
The left, on the other hand, according to Norquist, is an unstable coalition of competing parasites. You’ve got the trial lawyers, big labor, the dependency movement (those who depend on the government and those whose jobs are in existence because of that dependency), government utopians, and radical environmentalists. They have few common interests beyond bigger government. Because of this, they cannibalize each other, not unlike a group of people stranded on a life boat, deciding who to eat first.
Democrats, therefore, don’t have a very good coalition. But Republicans, if they are going to continue to grow, need to keep finding the up-and-coming groups that will continue to fuel the conservative movement. Recent examples include homeschoolers, bikers, and snow-mobilers. When government forces undue restrictions through helmet laws and rules about snow-mobiles, there are allies to be found.
Norquist’s characterizations of both parties are spot on. The Republican Party, despite all the talk of conflict between tea partiers and establishment Republicans, is made up of groups that are united in their dislike of big government. Democrats, however, rely heavily on big government to retain their power through public-sector unions, welfare programs, and pork barrel spending.
Norquist went on to talk about the difference between “vote-moving” issues and “tongue-wagging” issues. Basically, Republicans need to capitalize on the issues that motivate voters, and taxes and spending are two big vote-moving issues that Republicans won on this November. Norquist went on to say that if there are organizations created around an issue, that issue moves voters.
There is little doubt in my mind that vote-moving issues are the ones that Republicans must focus on to win elections. Bob McDonnell, Chris Christie, and Scott Brown won in part because they focused in on the issues that mattered most to people. Focusing on the economy also helped Republicans take back the House and make big gains in other areas.
Moving on to the GOP gains in state legislatures, Mr. Norquist stated that those huge gains, in states like Florida, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, will be huge factors in the GOP’s ability to hold on to and add to the Congressional gains from the midterms. In many of these states, the redistricting will sure up Republican seats and even create new seats for Republicans (in Texas, for instance, which will gain four congressional seats).
This redistricting situation is one that many commentators are either overlooking or underestimating. If Republicans can hold the House with districts drawn up primarily by Democrats, imagine how well the GOP will do once the lines are redrawn by Republican state legislators.
Touching on foreign policy, Mr. Norquist made the point that U.S. policy overseas, particularly invading and occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, did a lot of damage to the Republican Party and gave Democrats the chance to take back Congress in 2006. I have to agree with Mr. Norquist on this one, even though military action in Afghanistan is still popular among many Republicans. If the GOP is really the party of smaller government, then why do some people see the Republican Party as the party of big government (through military spending and overregulation of everyone’s personal lives)? In my view, Republican candidates do best when they, as Norquist might put it, “leave eyerone alone.”
If Republicans articulate their smaller government message, they can continue to hold the House and take control of the Senate. However, for real substantive change to take place, according to Mr. Norquist, Republicans must hold 60 seats in the Senate to block filibusters and Presidential vetoes.
During the Q&A, Norquist fielded questions on a variety of topics, including the possibility of a flat tax being enacted (it’s possible if Republicans have 60 in the Senate), where to look for good 2012 candidates (Governors), and what a reasonable immigration policy would look like (more immigrants, not less, because we need a fluid workforce as opposed to outsourcing jobs oversees).
Including jokes about sorting different colored glass for recycling and turning Afghanistan into Kansas, the speech was an engaging look inside the conservative movement from one of its foot soldiers. The next two years will be “virtuous gridlock” according to Norquist, and after two years of Obama, I think America, like Mr. Norquist, is looking forward to a legislative slowdown.