Question: Where has the conservative movement been successful?
Grover Norquist: You had six years of largely progress in terms of nothing stupid being done. There weren’t massive new regulatory regimes being put in. You did have two significant tax cuts which reduced marginal tax rates. Something like a third of all the wealth in the United States was created in the last four years with the run-up of the stock market, and even with the increase in home ownership; in value of homes. So there’s been a huge increase. We’re a much wealthier country. We now have 60 percent of adults owning shares of stock.
That’s going to jump by another 14 million individuals over the next few years because of changes in pension law that have taken place. So we’ve made America much more open to opportunity. Many more people control their own pensions, their own resources, their own lives than did before. And so the country is and will be freer as a result. So what you didn’t have was 60 senators. And as Harry Reed and Tom Daschle have pointed out, the filibuster says you can have 60 votes to win in the Senate.
We had at best 55 Republican votes in the Senate. Not 55 conservatives, but 55 Republicans. So in order to make significant progress, it really does take 60 Republican senators, which of course the Democrats were the majority in the House and Senate, learned they needed 60 when they wanted to nationalize healthcare under Clinton. They learned they need 60 when they wanted to change labor law. So the government is structured to make it very difficult for dramatic change, which is a healthy thing usually over time. Now when you’re the majority, you say, “Oh no. You should be able to do everything with the majority.” But when you’re in the minority, you realize you really do want super-majority protection for major changes, and the Constitution requires that.
Question: How do you explain the conservative movement’s recent setbacks?
Grover Norquist: Well the broad “leave us alone” coalition – the Reagan Republican party, the modern conservative movement – is doing fine and healthy. The [George W.] Bush administration has had some problems, but I would be worried if the Bush administration had been cutting taxes and advocating more tax cuts, and people said, “No, we don’t want that. We want the tax increase guys.” That’s not what happened. No Democrat ran for Congress or Senate and said, “I will raise your taxes and these icky Republicans are too busy cutting your taxes” and won with that. They in fact ran making you think that they wouldn’t raise taxes.
They did not run demanding more spending rather than less spending. What you did have was people’s concern that the occupation of Iraq was taking up all the president’s time and energy; that the White House and this administration was doing nothing else, which was in some ways a fair criticism. It was not just that people had questions about the war and the occupation of Iraq. It was that, “And name three other things that the president cares about. What are they?” They did not run in 2006 on next year, if you elect a Republican House and Senate president, we will do the following three things to make you freer. They didn’t list those.
So they ran asking for a thank you vote, and people don’t send thank you notes. They may send thank you notes; they don’t do it when they’re voting. They vote about the future, and the president did not give . . . and it took the air out the oxygen out of the room for other Republicans too. I mean there are a lot of congressmen and senators saying, “I want to do this, I want to do this, and I want to do this” trying to get on TV when the president ____ for the party. And he says, “This is all about occupying Mesopotamia for the next 50 years.” It depressed the Republican vote five percentage points, which was enough to switch the House and the Senate. And if Iraq is in the rearview mirror, the modern Republican party’s issues of individual liberty, and lower taxes, and less government spending come back to the fore and the Republican party can right itself.
So I’m not concerned for the movement or even the Republican party as long as we remain focused on Reagan’s vision on limited government and maximizing liberty. Individual politicians can run you off cliffs as Clinton did for the Democrats, and as Bush has done on the over-focus on Iraq with the inability on his administration’s part to walk and chew gum at the same time, or to be seen as walking and chewing gum at the same time.
Recorded on: September 12, 2007