Grover Norquist doesn't hold elective office, but wields huge sway over a group of Republican lawmakers who took his pledge to vote no on any tax increases.
Under the pressure of an approaching fiscal cliff and the wake of President Obama's re-election victory, some GOP members are wiggling away from their pledge to the president of the Americans for Tax Reform.
The Washington Post profiled Norquist last year, revealing he keeps the written pledges that lawmakers sign in a vault in Washington, DC. "When someone takes the pledge," Norquist told Jason Horowitz of The Washington Post, "you don't want it tampered with; you don't want it destroyed." That may or may not be a reflection on the caliber of politician he is dealing with.
The first pledge signers date back 25 years and include former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and supply-side economics advocate Jack Kemp, an early mentor to current House Budget Chair Paul Ryan.
Norquist hasn't been invited to White House negotiating sessions, yet he boldly predicts Republicans will hold the line against raising taxes. Or else, they may face a challenge from their political right in the next election, he adds. There are plenty of examples to show he isn't kidding or making an idle threat.
Of course, Norquist's adamant opposition to tax hikes isn't an end unto itself, though at times it seems like it. He is a fervent believer in smaller government. One of Norquist's most pungent lines is that he wants to see government shrink so he can "drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub."
The Horowitz profile noted Norquist loves the limelight, which he earns in part because of a slicing sense of humor as a stand-up comic. It makes for a great bit on talking head TV shows. He moved offices to avail himself of a meeting space that can seat 200 lawmakers, lobbyists and hangers-on with a view of Norquist at the head of the table.
According to Horowitz, Norquist is obsessed with seeing himself in print. His office sports a library with more than 100 copies of his own book, "Leave Us Alone: Getting Government's Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives." He also has earmarked pages in dozens of other books where he is quoted or depicted, including Ralph Nader's "Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us."
Norquist is clearly no dummy. His father was an engineer at Polaroid and his mother a nursery school director. He graduated from Harvard and Harvard Business School. He started his political career at age 12 as a volunteer for Richard Nixon's presidential campaign and has worked in his career with notables and not-so-notables, such as Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition and Jack Abramoff, who was ensnared and imprisoned in an influence-peddling scandal.
President Ronald Reagan appointed Norquist to head the Americans for Tax Reform group and he runs the Reagan Legacy Project. He sees to it that schools, gardens and missile silos are named after his hero, even though on tax increases, Reagan was a definite backslider.
Whether or not his grip is slipping somewhat, Norquist remains convinced his no-tax pledges are worth their weight in gold. Why else vouchsafe them in a vault.