The World According to Grover

On Friday, June 23, we held our fifth Prospect breakfast, this one featuring conservative activist Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. Among the guests were Michael Tomasky, Ezra Klein, and Harold Meyerson of The American Prospect; columnist Marie Cocco; Ellen Ratner of Talk Radio News Service; Ari Berman of The Nation; Michael Scherer and Walter Shapiro of; Amy Sullivan of The Washington Monthly; and Mark Schmitt of the New America Foundation.

Grover Norquist: Delighted, thanks for the invitation. I'm in the middle of writing a book on the structure of the modern Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the conservative movement, and the trends that I see over the next 25 years. And I would like to go through that quickly with you, and, in addition to questions, I would love to solicit your criticisms and suggestions about what trends I'm missing, particularly where you think I misunderstand how the left's structure works.

The modern Reagan Republican Party, the modern conservative movement, if you want to know what it's going to do … imagine a table and around it are all different groups. And on the issue that brings them to politics, not on everything, but the issue that moves their vote, what they want from the government is to be left alone. Taxpayers -- I run Americans for Tax Reform -- don't raise my taxes. The Second Amendment community -- I'm on the board of the National Rifle Association -- leave our guns alone. Four million members of the NRA, five million guys with concealed-carry … they don't go knocking on doors saying you should own guns; they don't insist public schools teach books with titles like Heather Has Two Hunters. They just … leave us alone and we're happy. The home-schooling movement, now about two million students, maybe 600,000 parents; the property-rights movement, particularly strengthened after Kelo; the business community that doesn't want subsidies, they just want to not be taxed and not regulated. The guys who are in Washington asking for checks are not part of the coalition.

And the various communities of faith -- a lot of guys misunderstand the political part: the guys who got active in the late '70s when they felt, rightly or wrongly, that Carter was going after Christian schools and Christian radio stations. The religious right didn't get going after God was kicked out of public schools; it didn't even really get organized after Roe v. Wade. It saw its creation with the fear that the IRS was going after Christian schools and the SEC was coming after Christian radio stations, and that's when you had the plethora of groups created. It's a parents' rights movement and, again you ask them 20 questions, you get some pretty interesting answers. But on the issue that moves their vote … they want to be left alone to practice their religion and raise their kids in that faith and not have schools throwing prophylactics at the kids and stuff. That's why the right, in the conservative movement and the Republican Party, we're able to have evangelical Protestants, fundamentalists, and Pentecostals, who don't agree theologically, and conservative Catholics and orthodox Jews and Muslims and Mormons who don't agree on who's going to Heaven and why, but understand that if they're gong to be able to raise their kids and go to Heaven, the pagans over there have got to have the same political freedom to go to Hades.

Around the table you've got Pat Buchanan and others who look and see all the fissures on secondary and tertiary issues, and he's right. But on the vote-moving primary issue, everybody's got their foot in the center and they're not in conflict on anything. The guy who wants to spend all day counting his money, the guy who wants to spend all day fondling his weaponry, and the guy who wants to go to church all day may look at each other and say, "That's pretty weird, that's not what I would do with my spare time, but that does not threaten my ability to go to church, have my guns, have my money, have my properties, run by my business, home-school my kids." … Pat Buchanan came into this coalition and said, “You know what? I have polled everybody in the room and 70 percent think there are too many immigrants; 70 percent are skeptics on free trade with China. I will run for President as a Republican; I will get 70 percent of the vote.” He didn't ask the second question … do you vote on that subject?

And so the challenge as a political organizer and as somebody who would like to have my team win, have more people in the room and not chase out anybody in the room, is when are you talking to somebody on a vote-moving primary issue and when are you talking to them about what they heard on talk radio or what they thought they were supposed to be talking about that day or something that they love to talk about? I was in Texas and a Palestinian-American was going on and on about who should run Hebron and at the end of the conversation he said, “Of course, I'm a member of the NRA and I always vote guns.” Step 1, forget what he thought about Hebron and talk to the guy about guns … he's in the coalition. And so, the people's vote-moving issue is not necessarily what you think is most important in the world, and if you try to project onto your own team, “Oh, I think that everybody should care about taxes,” and therefore assume that everybody else will vote on that, you probably guessed wrong because not everybody agrees with you on everything … despite the fact that maybe they should. That's why the right is a low-maintenance coalition, because on the primary issues, guys are not in conflict.

What is Bush going to do? Bush is going to look around the room and take care of everybody in the room. I'm not going to threaten you, I'm not going to threaten you, I'm not going to threaten you. This is what Reagan did. And Bush, the father, was put in the middle of the table and stayed there through the campaign, and then wandered off because he didn't understand why he was there. And he stepped on the toes of the taxpayers, the gun owners, and he went through and messed with primary vote-moving issues of whole parts of the Republican coalition.

Bush 43 has been much better at that. It answers the question of, “So why is spending a problem?” Spending's a problem because spending's not a primary vote-moving issue for anyone in the coalition. Everybody around the room wishes you'd spend less money. Don't raise my taxes; please spend less. Don't take my guns; please spend less. Leave my faith alone; please spend less. If you keep everybody happy on their primary issue and disappoint on a secondary issue, everybody grumbles … no one walks out the door. So the temptation for a Republican is to let that one slide. And I don't have the answer as to how we fix that. But it does explain how could it possibly be that everyone in the room wants something and doesn't end up getting it because it's not a vote-moving issue.

So that's the structure of the right, obviously the way I see the vote-moving parts. The left: trial lawyers with resources, organized labor with resources and people and votes --votes being largely retirees, money being dues. The two wings of the dependency movement -- those locked into welfare dependency and the guys who make $90,000 a year making sure they stay there and don't get jobs and become Republicans. And then what we cheerfully call the coercive utopians who want to get the government to give them grants and then tell the rest of us you have to separate the green glass from the clear glass, and our toilets have to be too small to flush, and our cars have to be too small to have kids in, and you can't wear leather, and you can't date girls. The collection -- there are guys who actually list the things they want you to do and how to run your life -- is slightly longer and more tedious than Leviticus. Actually they do want to pass laws on that as opposed to Jerry Falwell, whose voters would be happy left alone. Now, some Republicans say you've got to pass laws against gays or whatever. Well, you can get people to say that but it's not a vote-moving issue in the Republican Party. People want their kids protected but they're not willing to cross the street on vote-moving issues in order to go bother people in San Francisco who do odd things. It allows for a lot more conflict. We get about one-third of the gay vote for House candidates because they've figured it out -- that the coalition is non-threatening to them. It may be insulting at times, but it's non-threatening in a political sense.

And then, our job as conservatives is to wake up every day and say how do we make more of us and fewer of them. And the left's position is the same. I passed out a series of trends here; I'd be very interested in whether people think I'm missing stuff. I would suggest the biggest trend is the number of people who own shares of stock directly. We've gone from 17 percent of Americans owning stock to up over 50 percent of households. According to Mark Penn, two-thirds of voters in 2002, 2004, somebody who owns at least $5,000 worth of stock is 18 percent more Republican and less Democratic. African-American, no stock, 6 percent Republican; $5,000 worth of stock, 20 percent Republican. Every demographic group gets better with share ownership. Rich, poor, all colors, all genders, with the exception of women who earn more than $75,000 a year, who are already thoroughly Republican and don't get any better.

The union membership numbers that I know a lot of you have written about, from 33 percent to 12 and a half percent. I think bigger than membership numbers is the passing of the generation of union retirees. The Republicans had a disappearing Republican problem from 1960 to 1975. Older people who grew up under Republican domination in Ohio and Massachusetts, and if you grew up north of the Mason-Dixon line, you tended to be a Republican. This is why our friend Goldwater got a majority of the over-65 crowd. Now wait a minute … I thought he was supposed to close down Social Security, an enemy of old people. Old people -- Republican, unless you were in the South, and disproportionately Republican. So when we go and poll people in the old folks' home in the '60s and '70s, they would be turning into Democrats -- what's the matter with our old people? They're all Democrats! Well, our old people were passing away and we were getting a new old people that tended to be Democratic -- came up under FDR and Truman. And you now have that generation disappearing -- 2.4 million people a year. So every election cycle there's 10 million older people who aren't there and more than that young people coming in. That's a challenge for the Democrats because the most Democratic, big D Democratic, age cohort in America, American history, is guys 74 to 94 years old.

I go through some of the trends in here and I'm just trying to work through them. The big question mark for the Republicans is voter fraud. When you have more mail-in ballots you have more opportunity for voter fraud. When you have voter ID, you have less. And there are different trends there: an opening up of same-day registration and vote by mail, which gives you more opportunity for voter fraud, and picture ID and some of the other changes which give you less opportunity for voter fraud. We see voter fraud as a growing part of the Democratic Party's militia.

The big question mark is immigration, and I tend to be to the left of where the President is and -- I don't think it's quite right-left … my concern is Tom Tancredo will become the face of the modern Republican Party. I handed out here my favorite quotation in the whole world, which is a quotation from a Republican minister, not speaking in some obscure church somewhere, but speaking to the religious bureau of the Republican Party, the RNC, where he made the Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion comment, which convinced Roman Catholics for a hundred years that Republicans don't like them. Can you imagine how many priests there were at this meeting of the Republican religious bureau where a guy felt free to compare Roman Catholicism with treason? So that that's the big open question.

If the face of the Republican Party is Reagan and Bush, we'll do fine. If the face of the Republican Party is Tom Tancredo … last year 4.1 million people were born, 900,000 Hispanic. If you speak ill of people, they think you do not love them. And is the challenge … how Republicans talk about the immigration issue, have a reasonable policy. I think we need more people in the country; I'd like to have more people in the country. But how do we do that in a way that keeps folks happy?

That's my sense on the two structures of the parties. What will the Republican Party do? Their answer to everything is lifetime savings accounts, personal savings accounts, retirement savings accounts, education savings accounts, health saving accounts because they view creating more shareholders creates more of us. And the Democratic answer is 100,000 more cops, 100,000 more border guards, 100,000 more teachers, 100,000 more government workers because they're 10 percent more Democratic than Republican. More higher-paid, long-lasting government workers gives you more Democrats. It's not a coincidence the two parties rationally figured out the direction they want their efforts to go in.

And I'll take questions but I just spent a weekend with Al Gore and the founders of, the Sierra Club, where they were trying to talk me into understanding global warming, which was very interesting. And they've come up with the perfect environmental model, which was previously -- we [inaudible] society because we're running out of oil. Well every time you find more oil, that kind of queers that argument. How about, we have acid rain. Well, you can just throw lime in the water. OK, now about -- they've got the perfect one -- a calamity 100 years from now. Just stop asking me for proof. But you have to do everything in 10 years or you have the calamity.

Mike Tomasky: It's normally my prerogative to ask the first question, but this time I will defer to my colleague Harold Meyerson, who has written a lot on this issue.

Harold Meyerson: How do you account for the failure of the President's proposal to privatize Social Security?

Norquist: The otherwise very intelligent people at the White House made an error. You can get polls that show 70 percent of Americans are for privatizing Social Security if you ask the question right. I believe that when there are 60 Republican senators we will move Social Security from the present Ponzi scheme to a fully funded individually held system, but not until.

If you look at the demographic numbers, if every 18-year-old in this country of any income level can look to retire with hundreds of thousands of dollars in a personalized savings account, it changes who that person is -- not just when they save money but as they're doing it. The modern Democratic Party cannot survive if everyone in the country is going to be saving 10 percent of their income and retiring on that income, the party of trial lawyers and labor unions is finished. There will still be two parties. They could be the Weird Sex Party; they could be the Tree Hugger Party; they could be the Peace Party. There are a number of options available to the left. The party of trial lawyers and labor unions is not one in a shareholding society.

Therefore, Rule No. 1, unlike the scene in Hannibal Lector where he talks the guy in the other cell into swallowing his tongue and killing himself, the Republicans are not that good. The Democrats are not going to vote to privatize Social Security because politically they can't survive it; therefore, you could not … the White House says, “Oh Grover, there are six or eight Democrats who are open to this.” I said, “Name two.” “Grover, six or eight.” “Name two.” “Six or eight Grover, really.” No there aren't, there are none, OK? Because you can't get the Democrats to vote for this, you've got to get 60 Republican votes to do it. And what Bush did was, he went out on that six-month tour, not understanding that Social Security was already dead. And it was sort of like Weekend at Bernie's. “Hey, Social Security's moving, see?” “No, you're pushing.” “No, it's moving, it's alive!” And it wasn't. He didn't kill it -- when he got 55 Senators not 60, it wasn't going anywhere. And it was a very painful period, at which point he should have walked away from Bernie. Remember, they never even announced Bernie's death; they left him in a taxi or something and went away.

I would argue that we have -- and every year it looks more doable -- more young people who are more understanding of the idea that everyone can have his own pension, as opposed to a generation that thought that Bismarck had it right, who thought that everyone had to retire at the same time and die at the same time in order to make the system work. So I think we'll get it, but not until we have 60 Republican senators. Luckily, the guys who gerrymandered the Senate seats and gave us all those lovely square seats out west with three people living in the state, two of whom are Republican senators and one of whom is a Republican congressman, are going to make it easier for us to get the 60.

Mike Tomasky: I wrote recently, and some other people have, too, that you have a President who's at 34 percent, a Congress, Republican-controlled, at 20-something percent, etc. etc. I think that many Americans have seen for the first time with the Bush era a conservative government, the conservative philosophy, failing them in a way that most Americans did not see when Ronald Reagan was President. Do you think that's so? Do you think that's something to be concerned about from your perspective? And if so, what is the liberal Democrats' best argument against that?

Norquist: Step 1, we have Republicans in both Houses; we don't have Republican control in the Senate, we do have Republican control in the House. The Democrats have changed the rules to require 60 votes, and my friends used to whine about that, and my favorite cartoon is the one where the soldiers are in the fort and the Indians are firing lighted arrows in. And they say, “Indians are lighting their arrows on fire. Can they do that?” Yes, they just did. Move on. Figure out how to get 60 votes instead of whining about it.

It's a very interesting question about why the President's numbers are so low. My best sense is that it's the war and the unhappiness with the war. The good news for the Republican Party and the conservative movement is that invading Iraq was … what's it called? … people say this war was an optional war, a war of choice, OK? The Republican Party did not demand the invasion of Iraq. And one of the challenges I'm trying to understand what the conservative movement will do about is … you want defense but you have these various arguments between a Pat Buchanan, who says going to Iraq will get you more enemies and more problems, and the neo-cons who say no no no, we're solving the problems. And that's a credential question that isn't turning out for the neo-cons as well as they might have hoped, or as quickly, anyway, as they might have argued. If that's your problem, when you're past it, the coalition's OK. The economy's doing generally OK.

I think the Democratic Party's best position was muffed by Murtha. The best position was to stand here and point at Bush and say, “Bush and Iraq, how do you like that?” And then shut up and say nothing. Because when they were doing that … what's the old joke? "How's your wife?" "Compared to what?" If you're just saying how's Bush, Bush and the war, no, not good, not good. Murtha here … how about we pull out tomorrow? And then all of a sudden you've got someone to compare Bush with.

Bush would have lost in 2004 if he had been running against nobody. And the smart move for the Democrats, for the opposition when you're running against an incumbent, is almost always to make it a referendum on the incumbent. But there's this real tendency among candidates to go Me Me Me, They Love Me, You Should Love Me. They can love you after you get your butt elected. It doesn't have to be about you to win. Kerry made it too much about Kerry. Bush's numbers on right-track/wrong-track and do-you-think-he's-doing-a-good-job were both under 50, but he won. That shows the power of conservative ideas … no no. And so I think the Democrats … I know this is a constant conversation: “We've got to get a theme, we've got to get something.” Yeah, but if one could hold back and just say, “what about that?” Now, at some point the Republicans will say, oh, they have no answers. But if you've had a problem hung around your neck, “They don't have any answers” doesn't work as well.

The other question is what if it's not Iraq, what is this depressive thing? I don't get it if it's not Iraq right now.

Ellen Ratner: The Republicans in Ohio are saying the gay marriage vote is essentially what won them the last election. The President has pushed this gay marriage amendment, the Senate has. Yet you say people have individual rights. They seem to have a very different view of gays.

Norquist: There's a very interesting question on … I speak to the Log Cabin Republicans and work with them on a whole host of issues … the Human Rights Campaign on certain things … so I get trashed from time to time by some of my friends. I think it's a mistake to write off any group. I was in Romania, they're having elections in four weeks, and I was organizing the non-communists. And I had them write on a blackboard Who's Voting for Us, Who's Voting for Them. And they had to list … understand why everybody was. They had the gypsies voting for the communists, and I said, “OK, I get why the Communists are voting for the Communists, and the Army and the police and the guys with government jobs, but why the gypsies?” If I were a gypsy I'd want to live outside touchy-feely U.S. law, much less harsher communist law. And they said, “Well, the communists buy them liquor and then they vote for them.” And I said, “We can do this; George Washington did this, it's OK.” And they said, “No, the gypsies are scum and we won't talk to them.” And I said, “OK, I guess you're not getting the gypsy vote then.” In politics you want to have as few gypsies as possible, as few groups and people who are not voting for you because you're not talking to them.

On Ohio, I'm trying to work through this and figure it out myself. I called the guy who organized that race, who had given a speech saying we helped win the Ohio race, and I remembered the speech and I called him and I e-mailed him and I said do you have that speech, can you give it to me? And they sent me an outline and I read it and it didn't have anything that answered the question of why that initiative -- Defense of Marriage, gay marriage -- raised the Republican vote. I talked to somebody in Ohio who told me their voter turnout was up beyond what was expected given who was on the ballot last time around, they think because of the gay marriage. So I'm trying to get whether turnout was up more in those states, particularly in those counties where you'd think they'd be more that way. But when I asked the guys, they sort of pushed back on me -- Grover, you shouldn't be so gay-friendly. And I never have seen numbers which suggest that speaking harshly about gays is a vote winner.

The different question is where's the line of leave-us-alone? Is the line of leave-us-alone, we're gays and we just want to lead our lives and that means civil unions? I thought that's where the line is, that there'd be this line where Christians…

Ratner: Tax issues?

Norquist: I've been working with the Human Rights Campaign on just those issues.

Ratner: Inheritance?

Norquist: If we could do all those things for civil unions, than it's that line that people could uncomfortably live with. The guys in Massachusetts jumped to gay marriage and we ended up with these 20 counter-initiatives. We don't have an obvious line in the sand that everybody could sort of live with, something where Christians could say if you mess with marriage, you're not leaving us alone, and the gays could say if you mess with civil unions, you're not leaving us alone. That I thought might have been something people could live with. But guys on both sides, some of the gays said no, unless we have marriage we're not being left alone, and some of the anti-marriage initiatives include bans on civil unions. No private contracts between you people. What? That goes beyond protecting the religious value of marriage.

So, you're right, and that is a very difficult question. There's not an obvious … I think Bush gave one speech on the federal marriage amendment. The other issue is -- if it's such a big issue, opposition to gays or to gays being married, why does it not affect how people vote for candidates? And I can't find a candidate -- now, it's a recent issue so it's not like guns or babies or taxes where you can go back 30 years and look at election results -- but I don't see in Massachusetts that people lost because they refused to support a ban on gay marriage. There are people who lost in Vermont but they passed civil unions and a massive property tax -- I'm not sure you can tell which bullet killed them.

It would be helpful if people understood the politics of it, not that it would change the morality of the question but at least it pins people down. I can't find the data that suggests that having the Defense of Marriage on the ballot helped Bush. And I asked the guy whose job it was to make that case and I got an e-mail back with a list of how many prayer groups that had working on it, which was not quite what I was looking for. So, I don't see it, but I haven't looked enough. I'm looking at the Oklahoma numbers to see if that makes sense. The guys in Oklahoma make the case that it went the other way.

Marie Cocco: I'd like to get back to the economy for a moment. The last time I did this, which was a few months ago but I don't think that things have really changed since then, I had to go back to the summer of 2002 to find polling data in which a majority said they approved of the way Bush was handling the economy. So it's been now almost four years that he's had disapproval of his handling of the economy. If you are correct that policies of tax cuts, privatization, health savings accounts, etc., are the policies that the public wants, why do you have to go back four years to find a moment where a majority of Americans approve of this President's economic policy?

Norquist: Part of that may get to the “compared to what” question. And that is, in 2002, on the investor class stuff … you could have said, just drop $7 trillion in stock market value with the collapse of the bubble … $7 trillion, trillions with a T … Americans had $7 trillion less than they used to have, you can expect them to be very irritated and in trouble. You did see the Republicans run out and agree to Sarbanes-Oxley in reaction to the Enron scandal. But going into November, what actually saved it for the Republicans was the investor vote, which went heavily R. Why? One, they didn't blame Bush for the collapse of the bubble. They were mad at having lower stock prices and 401(k)s, but they didn't say Bush did this and that caused this. Secondly, the Democratic solution was to sic the trial lawyers on Enron and finish it off. No no no no no. We want our market caps to go back up, not low.

The 1930s rhetoric was bash business -- only a handful of bankers thought that meant them. Now if you say we're going to smash the big corporations, 60-plus percent of voters say "That's my retirement you're messing with. I don't appreciate that". And the Democrats have spent 50 years explaining that Republicans will pollute the earth and kill baby seals to get market caps higher. And in 2002, voters said, “We're sorry about the seals and everything but we really got to get the stock market up.”

So, it's not just a question of how things are going but what solution you're happier with. You still can't find polling for people who want higher taxes as the solution to whatever the problem is. Are people unhappy about gas prices? Yeah, and it's a very interesting question whether they're focused on gas prices because they see it all the time and you buy gas more regularly than other things. But I would argue it's the alternative -- what's the Democratic alternative, the progressive alternative to what Bush is doing and do people think that would work?

I did put out some numbers at the beginning here, which are not trends but the third page in which goes to how people view taxes and whether they think rich people should pay more, how you should tax people at various levels … and envy doesn't work well in a country with [inaudible]. And the whole “death tax” thing, as far as I'm concerned, is a referendum on envy as a political tool. And I'm in favor of getting rid of the death tax because I think it's government-sanctioned envy. It's like getting rid of the Jim Crow laws because it's government-sanctioned racism. I don't like the idea that the government says it's only a small percentage of rich people so screw them, and it's very good that 70 percent of people say "No, that's not our attitude, I'm not in favor of that." So I think “compared to what” is my best argument at present.

Cocco: Why does such a low percentage of the public approve of this man's economic policy? The question is not asked in a vacuum; for four years he's had a majority of Americans saying they don't approve of his handling of the economy. For four years, not just in 2002 when their stock value was down.

Norquist: I don't know, but I'm open to suggestions. There's some possibility that people just don't like this guy anymore. You know, people talk about Bush fatigue -- "I don't like the way he dresses, I don't like the way he talks" -- I'm not sure of that and I have not seen polling that would answer the question that you ask.

Looking towards 2006, I passed out two articles I did for The American Spectator. I used to write there regularly and now I'm back writing semi-regularly but longer pieces. This is my analysis of the 2008 contestants and where they stand, not whether they're good or bad but how they're doing. And this one was my take on the 2006 election. And one thing I think was helpful is the first page in this series goes through the change in the Republican Party strength in the House and the Senate, state legislatures, governors, and it shows a huge jump up in '94 and no significant fallback. So we went up this plateau and it's been pretty consistent ever since. Some people thought the old R and D numbers in the states and in Congress were normal and we'd fall back to normal. But we seem to have a new normal. It survived the election in '96 when Clinton ran strongly and Dole ran poorly; in '98 when the Republicans were all shooting at Clinton, forgetting he wasn't on the ballot; and then 2000, our candidate was not as articulate as you might have wanted and didn't mention the DUI until three days before the election, and he was running against Gore, who's a very serious. … I know you guys kind of trash your guys as soon as they lose, but Gore was a very serious candidate, and he planned most of his adult life to run for the presidency, and was running on peace and prosperity, and there's every reason to believe he should have won the electoral vote, and the D's would have been helped in the House and the Senate … still didn't move the House and the Senate. In 2002, you had the lousy economy and it didn't move the House and the Senate. In 2004, we had Iraq and it didn't move the House and the Senate. So I tend to think that this is a majority, particularly in the House, that is fairly stable despite some bad news and fights.

Walter Shapiro: Power of having the microphone. Grover, what do you think in the strategic, technical sense, the Democratic [taking] the institutions that supposedly fueled the Republican takeover and, much like the Jews dealing with restrictive country clubs, say "We're gong to build a better one"? "They've got the Heritage Foundation? We're going to build the Center for American Progress. They've got Rush? We're going to have Air America," etc. etc.

Norquist: This is good. I'm taping this for me because I've got to put stuff together for my book. You remind me of something I've been working on, but … for the Democrats to say, “We need things like Heritage and Cato and…” What happened to Brookings? Every one of those conservative institutions that progressives tend to look at and say how come we don't have one of those was consciously put together to mimic and compete with an existing, larger left-of-center entity that still exists. Ooooh, the Republicans have Scaife -- scary, Oh yeah? Scaife can be eaten for lunch by Carnegie, Rockefeller, any number of the left-of-center foundations. You've got Scaife, Olin on the right … there's another one … Smith-Richardson … Bradley, Bradley Foundation -- that's actually the largest of the conservative foundations. I think it's like, $400 million? But compared to left-of-center foundations they're teeny. So it's an odd one in … why not go back and recapture or refocus the larger existing institutions?

Oh, let's see, the Republicans have FOX or talk radio, we'll go get this. CBS, NBC, ABC, the Bolsheviks over at The Washington Post, The New York Times, you know. The idea that FOX News is swamping things, I mean, people do watch it but compared to the three networks it's still a small player. So I'm not quite sure … when you're not winning and you think you should be winning, like conservatives during the Cold War, they decide, the John Birch Society decides there's this internal, incredible conspiracy working against us, and you come up with reasons why you're losing other than that you're not working hard enough the other team gets to play too. The other team gets to move, too, right? I play checkers with my dad, chess with my dad, and I plan 14 moves ahead, and I win except that he gets to move between my 14 moves and his queen is never where it's supposed to be.

I just think it's a question of … if you spend a lot of time trying to analyze the other team as opposed to beating them you end up like the conservatives were with all these charts showing the Council on Foreign Relations -- which I'm a member of by the way, which really intrigues some of my Internet friends -- with dotted lines running out to the whole world.

There's nothing wrong with having Air America to compete with the others, but I don't know if … I mean the Japanese did fairly well recreating what we did, just making them smaller. I don't know if you want to go for smaller, but you always learn from the other team, and you should always be focused on what they're doing and what they're doing right, and sometimes if the other team is doing stuff that you haven't thought of … Paul Weyrich tells the story of NCEC, the National Council for an Effective Congress. He consciously set up his PAC to mimic that, and NCPAC. The challenge on the right is, let's see, the left has organized labor and we'll do what to counter that? I'm not quite sure you can do that. We'll get the government to vote to make all the businessmen give us 500 bucks a year. You can't re-create some of the things the other team has. There's no Republican counterpart to trial lawyers. You know the Roman place where the one guy has a sword and the other has the knife and the net and the trident? You don't always have to have the same weapons in politics.

March Schmitt: I love your argument that the conservative coalition is a low-maintenance coalition. That may be true for your personnel … for your weekly meeting, but it seems to me that the Republican electoral coalition is an extremely high-maintenance coalition [inaudible]. Chief among those kind of fudges is…

Norquist: I'm sorry, what is the word?

Schmitt: Fudges. You know, things you kind of squoosh together that aren't really sustainable. Chief among those is the aggressive separation of tax policy from spending policy, of which you are a prime advocate. Now you portrayed it this morning as the Republican failure to do anything about spending as sort of a secondary issue that's kind of forgot. [inaudible] … Absolutely central to building a winning coalition [inaudible] and that seems to be one of several that are unsustainable [inaudible]. And that seems to be one of several fudges out there.

Norquist: What else?

Schmitt: Immigration. Immigration is a matter of trying to finesse a very segmented [inaudible] so that you can go “Latinos” -- I just heard this phrase – “We Love You” strategy. At the same time, you're committing to that Tancredo base that they can do what they want to do and frankly [inaudible] gay marriage. In 2004, Bush was able to play a very subtle game where he himself didn't have to say anything about the initiatives; he was Mr. Tolerance himself. Meanwhile, [inaudible] that's not a low-maintenance coalition. How do you argue that a real winning Republican coalition is a low-maintenance coalition?

Norquist: Look, I guess I would argue that it's held together fairly well since Reagan. Remember how we used to have a liberal wing in the Republican Party? And the whole party has become Reaganized. If Richard Nixon came back to life today and was elected to Congress, he'd sit by himself in the Republican caucus. Maybe Jim Leach … you'd have two of them from time to time. But he doesn't represent a wing of the party. The party has become more coherent ideologically. And I would argue that there is an awful lot of very heated rhetoric on immigration. Take those people who say California 50 was a vote driven on the immigration issue. I wish he hadn't led with that but he didn't have much else to talk about as a candidate; he wasn't right-of-center on most other issues.

Low-maintenance in that it's going to hold together. That doesn't suggest you don't have to work at it all day. We have the center-right coalition meeting here in D.C. We put 120, 140 people in a room every week and 30 people present. We have guys who say we should pull out of Iraq right now and we have guys who say we should invade Iran. They present separately; we don't do some sort of debate. They hand out their literature so you get the we-should-invade-Iran literature and the invading-Iran-would-be-stupid literature in the pile of stuff in front of you. If you're going to be a majority party with 300 million people in the country, it's going to be messy all the time and it's going to be loud, like a big family. And the trick is to remind people we're all in the same family, we all love each other, it's the other guys that suck.

Trying to keep that coalition together … it's much easier than FDR's coalition. I think it's easier than what the Democrats are working with, but, are there things that take a lot of time and effort to manage, and am I very concerned about the immigration issue? Absolutely. Particularly the tone of the immigration issue.

Schmitt: [inaudible]

Norquist: I put out two suggestions [to deal with spending], both of which I really like. I think they're sheer genius. The first is term-limit the Appropriations Committee. Deal with spending … some people go, let's pass a constitutional amendment to deal with spending. Oh, I see, you have two-thirds of both houses and three-quarters of the state legislatures ready to do something? If you have that, we wouldn't be where we are. So you don't. Quit telling me about a constitutional amendment. Having an annual vote on a constitutional amendment is fine as an educational device, fine. Nothing wrong with that, that's a good idea. I get a vote every year on a two-thirds majority to raise taxes. Do we win? No. What are we doing? We're marking votes. We're seeing where everybody is and we're getting our team used to seeing this.

On spending, I think we should term-limit the Appropriations Committee. All it takes is a majority of the Republican caucus in the House as a House rule, so you don't have to sell everybody and you don't have to sell the appropriators. What you have to do is have everybody say, “Oh, I would like to be an appropriator someday,” and bump these other guys off. I checked with people … when you have a good idea, first you check and see whether this might be a really destructive idea. Does anybody see how this might blow up in our faces and make things worse? And people said no. Some people think this is 105 percent of the problem, some people think 25 percent of the problem. Nobody thinks it goes the wrong way.

Another one I presented to the folks at the White House and that is, the President should announce, “These budget numbers we've all agreed to. When you send me a bill, HHS or Defense, if you meet my budget numbers and not above, I will honor all of the earmarks in it, the earmarks in the Committee Report that are non-binding. But you spend a dollar more than what we agreed to and all the earmarks are off the table.” What did you just do? You just turned the appropriators into your watchdogs for total numbers, total numbers. They'll go and they'll steal money for rich kids to have swimming pools and stuff, but they won't do more than $10 billion.

You got to work with the tools that you have. What could you do that would actually change the votes that are there, not with imaginary votes. I stopped playing with imaginary children when I was young. There are too many people in politics that have negotiations with imaginary people and try to get to imaginary voters and have launch parties and discussions with Harvard, OK? We've got to figure out what we've got and the President could do that, and I think the Appropriations Committee would buy it and the spending hawks would buy it. They'd go, “Oh, I get it, we just flipped those guys, they're on our team now.” OK? And since our concern is overall spending and not whether the swimming pool is here or here, the folks who care about the policy would be in, too. So if you see that happen, [inaudible], thank Grover. It's the best I've been able to come up with and the dilemma that you put forward is exactly the challenge that we have.

Ezra Klein: I would like to talk about health care for a second. [inaduble] Health care is the No. 1 priority among the American people [inaudible] … I'm fascinated by the health savings accounts solution that seems to say, sure, you don't like how much you're spending, you don't like the risk you have, but really the problem is you're not spending enough and you need to assume a whole lot more risk. [inaudible] How do you sell that?

Norquist: They're just about to roll out a very significant expansion of HSAs because I've been in an argument with them about it; they had some pieces that were very problematic from my perspective. And so I just spend the last week going back-and-forth with the guys on the Hill and guys at the White House trying to come up with something. And I'm officially reasonably happy with where they are. I wanted more in certain directions. But it's certainly going to be a huge discussion. I think they're going to pass [inaudible] a significant increase in HSAs, which would allow lower-income people to take tax credit against their Social Security taxes to put the one or two thousand dollars into a … as you choose to have … before it's insurance, when they put the money into your account and you spend it up to $2,000 and you're insured after that. I'm not sure that increase -- the deducible … why do you think that increases their risk? If you, tax-free, can put the money in or your corporations can, the employers can put the money in. Why do you think that increases your risk? If you save it, it's yours. If you spend it up to $2,000, the catastrophic kicks in, so you still have total dollar coverage. It's just you have a choice with the first $2,000 to save some of it and spend it elsewhere.

Norquist: I think they're structured so that you can only take as big a deductible as you put the money in the bank for, so it's either your money or your company's money but you own it, but it's there. You can't just walk in and just buy catastrophic and out of the pocket do the first four, that they're not allowing. The money's got to be there. If it confuses people and makes people feel at risk, then it's risky, but I don't think it has that risk in the plan, but I'll double check.

The other question is, have you seen the numbers that Treasury Secretary Snow used to go out with; there were 300 billion jobs created in the last 20 years and 290 destroyed? When they say there were 20 million jobs created during Reagan or whatever, many more were created and just 20 million fewer than that were destroyed. One of the questions could be, “Are people feeling their job is at risk?” There's so much turnover and if you take out of that the 15 million who are government workers, who tend not to change jobs, you're really talking about a much higher rate of turnover of people in the private sector. So could that be something that makes people nervous? Now I like to think that people are comfortable with that and are happy, but not that man people are as excited about changing jobs as you might want in a dynamic economy. You know, when they argue that the unemployment rate is 5 percent and gong up, then you have 10 percent of people scared. It's not just the 5 percent, it's everybody who thinks they might lose their jobs. And when it's 10 percent unemployment and it's going down, fewer than 10 percent of people are scared [inaudible] and some of the unemployed people aren't scared anymore. So it's largely the direction. But if you're worried about job turnover a lot and that frightens you, then you can be uncomfortable with, “Didn't you see, we've created four million net new jobs.” Yeah, but it's too … I don't know how to measure that.

It's thrown out as an argument as to why some people are less excited even though the aggregate … conservatives are always very good at saying nobody votes on aggregate numbers. Nobody votes on total taxes or total spending. They vote on marginal taxes on them, on marginal spending on them. They don't vote on aggregates. And yet when we tell everybody how great the economy is doing, we say, “On average, everybody got a 5 percent raise; on average, we've got X number of people working.” People are saying, that's not necessarily me. So it's very interesting when we say…

Mike Tomasky: I have to interrupt. I have to go and be on a panel at another conference, but carry on. And listen, thanks.

Norquist: Thanks, I appreciate it. I had to leave five minutes ago but I can leave five minutes from now.

Michael Scherer: [inaudible] If you can specifically address the net neutrality position you've taken. Seems to me there's libertarian arguments on both sides of that issue and you've been very strongly out on the side of big corporate money. I'm wondering if you've solicited or accepted any money from any of the groups or corporations that are addressing that issue.

Norquist: Sure. One, we have a whole serious, non-moving policy [inaudible] …the White House spending a week trying to get me to change my mind on some stuff and we don't move in one direction or another. We're for smaller government, lower taxes -- period. And if you agree with us, you can give us more money and we can do more on that, but we're not changing any policies for that. And I don't know what Jack said to somebody but he certainly knew better than that. The one email that actually came out of that was something where Jack … they were have a conversation saying ATR might do this, it fits exactly with their world view; they already agree with us so let's see if they can highlight it. So, e-mails between two people who weren't you saying you're incorruptible and you only work on stuff you're already working on, that's kind of high praise from…

Scherer: [inaudible]…"Grover said, if you want to get ATR support, $50,000"…

Norquist: No, that's not what the conversation was. They came and said, we want you to do a letter on our issues. And the answer was, no. If you want to join our coalitions and become an ATR supporter, we'd love to work with you on stuff. But you can't write a check and get a letter written, or write a check and get a position taken or something like that. It was actually exactly the other way on that. And they also said maybe we can hire Grover to do that. No, you can't hire me to do that. If you want to … if you see yourself as part of the taxpayer movement, then you should be supportive.

On net neutrality, we have financial supporters on both sides of that fight. And people who work with ATR just understand that we're always going to be on the property rights side and the low-tax side. And we have guys who give us $50,000 a year who we just have to look in the eye and say, we just disagree with you on this one. And they know that. And people who want something different, hire a consultant. [inaudible]

Scherer: You haven't gotten any contributions [inaudible]

Norquist: No, definitely not. There are two sides on this and both are equal supporters of ATR in terms of being supportive. Just disagree on this issue. We work on all the tax issues, but … we're expanding into property rights now. We have six issues, shareholder associations, property rights alliance … I think there's probably a list of them there actually … and property rights is an increasingly important one. And that's just on the net neutrality stuff; that's not someplace that you can overlook.

Jim Ridgeway: So who you guys want to run for President?

Norquist: I passed out a piece on 2008 and I'll summarize it. My assumption is that Hillary Clinton is the Democratic nominee. I believe the debates will be Hillary Clinton and seven guys sitting around a table, her chair will be four inches taller than everybody else's, and Biden will say things like, “I was thinking today how clever and brilliant and witty Hillary was, which reminded me that Evan Bayh is an idiot.” And so, they'll kick each other under the table while praising Hillary, and then one of them gets to be vice president. So that's my operating assumption on the Democratic Party.

Marie Cocco: That's the best analysis I've heard actually.

Norquist: On the Republican side, the guy who wins is the guy who stands in the middle of the circle I told you about … all the moving parts of the conservative movement. There are also legacy voters, Republicans who are voting Republican because the guy at Little Roundtop was a Republican and I'm from Maine. Just as there are little old ladies in Mississippi who agree with Ronald Reagan but vote for George McGovern because Sherman was mean to Atlanta. So you have legacy voters, but over time that diminishes and you get new legacy voters. Children of people who liked Reagan are voting for Republicans.

But the moving parts of the conservative movement -- guys who can and will walk in or out of the room -- will become active, will become political activists and help move votes. The guy who stands most comfortably right now in the middle of that room is George Allen. Now George Allen's liability is that he looks and sounds too much like George Bush. What's the negative about him? He comes across like George Bush. But he's right in the middle and that may be good enough for him.

You've got the guy from Massachusetts, Governor Romney, who I had hoped that his campaign, whether he won or lost, would put anti-Mormon bigotry behind us in the same way the Kennedys did for opposition to Roman Catholicism. But I'm afraid that with Big Love and Anderson Cooper talking about that guy in Texas all the time -- the polygamist -- that the Mormons as quote thing instead of settling down gets pushed up. And there was some very interesting polling … 40 years ago, would you vote for somebody who agreed with you on most things who was otherwise black, Jewish, or Mormon? Blacks and Jews -- won't vote for them, 30 percent; Mormons -- won't vote for them, 18 percent. Flash forward to today. Blacks and Jews -- 1 or 2 percent wouldn't vote for them; Mormons -- 18 percent. So bigotry against Jews and blacks went down like this and the Mormons didn't move at all. I was hoping, still hoping, that we could get past that and the aggressively secular left, which has helped us so much to create a more ecumenical right, will allow us to bring the Mormons in at the same time. But that may not happen.

He wants to be in the center of the room, but his problem is he's never lived in the United States. He's lived in Utah and Massachusetts, and that sort of thing gives you an odd idea of where everybody is. Remember Dukakis? There was a comment by that lady who was his campaign manager, Estrich, who said that she was in a room … or maybe somebody was talking about her. There was a room of 20 of his top people and this guy saying this was the only one who didn't live inside Route 128. So you have some sense of their ability to project out into the rest of the country, what's going on in Kansas is limited. I grew up in Massachusetts, in the 128 beltway. I believed New York City was the Midwest until I was in my 20s. I thought the world centered on Boston and Cambridge and then there was everywhere else. So Massachusetts and Utah are difficult places to get your bearing on the country.

Also running, not running, may be running, is Jeb Bush. I think he'd be the strongest candidate. He's the best Republican governor in the country. He could jump dead-center on the coalition, and has a track record as governor of tremendous success. Oh, people say you can't run another Bush, people will say “dynasty.” Well, when you run against Hillary Clinton, that's a harder argument for The New York Times to make. It's not impossible, but harder. And I would argue that when you talk to him, he sounds different, he acts different.

Ellen Ratner: What about the fact that dynasty … if you have Hillary Clinton running, you have two families that have controlled this country for 30 years.

Norquist: I share that concern, and if I didn't think that Jeb Bush was a really really powerful, wonderful political leader, that would be controlling. It's bad enough that the North Koreans and the Egyptians and the Syrians are going to be laughing at us for the next eight years -- “Oh yeah, you said we couldn't have Mubarak II, now you do that.” It would be a little hard for us to be telling people, oh you should be like us. “We are like you … Assad -- Assad. We do this.” It is an argument. I just think it's more difficult with Hillary running. It's a problem for either of them. If they run against each other, it's more neutralized.

The challenge for McCain is that he lost in 2000 because he was ten paces off dead-center -- campaign finance reform. He was generally a Reagan Republican except for campaign finance reform, and that was enough to up-end him because the right-to-life people were concerned, the gun people were concerned, the tax people were concerned. I ran two press conferences on campaign finance reform, one in New Hampshire and one in South Carolina, just before those primaries. He was running around telling people I spent $12 million to kneecap him in South Carolina. I held a press conference. But it had the effect of unsettling the base of the movement. People said he's not with us on this stuff. So his challenge is, having been 10 paces off, he's now switched his positions on taxes, on guns, on judges, on Kyoto, and he's got to run as the guy who flip-flopped on central issues.

And the other challenge he has, and George Will wrote about this, he can't give the right-to-life people the judges they need, and they figured it out. Because his No. 1 goal in life is to chisel off Keating 5 from his tombstone and spray-paint on campaign finance reform. There are no judges in America who look at the Constitution and say it's flexible enough for campaign finance reform but not flexible enough for Roe v. Wade, OK? Judges will either say campaign finance reform is unconstitutional and Roe v. Wade is bad law, or campaign finance law is OK and Roe v. Wade is OK, too. So he's got a number of challenges on that one.

What's interesting is that his numbers have not fallen with immigration, which pleases me, because it's like the one issue he's good on, and trade … he's good on trade. And my friends say, “immigration's a big issue; everybody will hate people who are pro-immigrant.” I don't see John McCain's numbers falling as a result of his position on immigration. The counter-argument is wait till they get him in New Hampshire and start talking about it, and that my be true, but you'd think if it was as powerful an issue as they thought it was and he was the No. 1 proponent of amnesty that you'd see numbers, unless all they're registering is name ID, and that's sometimes what the political pollsters tell you…

Watch Rick Perry, Texas … second-best governor in the country. He cut spending $10 billion after Bush left because somebody had been spending too much money in Texas before Perry had taken over. And he could go, “Hey, I've done this before guys.” Otherwise, Brownback wants to run as the social conservative as opposed to the way he views everybody else who wants to run as economic conservatives. That's the Gary Bauer strategy.

You may also like