On the Elections, From the Right

Grover Norquist sees the elections as a potential watershed for the GOP. With many conservatives defecting, his enduring defense of party clearly signals a personal struggle to reconcile ideology and Republican loyalty.

Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform (www.atr.org), says voters on Tuesday delivered an unmistakable rebuke of the appropriations process-the "gateway drug to greater spending."  In an interview with National Interest online editor, Ximena Ortiz, Norquist voices staunch party fellowship, but outlines a budgetary and Iraq strategy that clearly does not "stay the course."

TNI: There's been a lot of discussion regarding the GOP losing its soul, its originating principles. Could this midterm mark the beginning of a constructive awakening for the GOP, or do you think that, realistically, it will lead to even greater partisan battles?

GN: I tend to be part of an effort to refocus the Republican Party as the Reagan Republican Party. We've had a series of challenges. One is appropriations-the appropriations process is inherently bad for the Republican Party because it turns Republicans into spenders. It's inherently bad because it corrupts people. Now, Democrats don't care if their congressmen steal money and hand it out to people in their districts; Republicans do.

And that's why the Democrat in West Virginia who took a quarter of a billion dollars and ran it to his friends and got rich won his election. But Congressman [Curt] Weldon (R-PA), who was accused of running appropriations or earmarks through some family member, loses his election. So, the appropriations process is poison because it's a gateway drug to greater spending and because it's inherently corrupt. Republicans consider taking people's tax money and spending it on other stuff to be corrupt itself, even if you aren't personally putting it in your pocket.

A lot of appropriators lost last night, which goes to show that being an appropriator can't buy your way out of an election problem. So, yeah, I'm working very hard to make sure we focus on spending, on the appropriations process, on reining in the appropriators who see themselves as different and separate from the modern Republican Party.

TNI: As a conservative focused squarely on smaller, less intrusive, more restrained government, and not on the cultural direction the party has taken a sharp swerve towards, how do you reconcile ideology with party loyalty?

GN: There are two kinds of social conservatives. There are people who (like the environmentalists) more or less have a faith they want to impose on everybody, they want everybody else to run around and go to church-their equivalent of recycling. But then a lot of the social conservative movement-I would argue a majority of it-simply wishes to be left alone by an aggressively annoying and secular state. Home-schoolers who want to educate their kids at home. People who don't want government schools to send your kid off to have an abortion without talking to you about it, or hand out birth control pills without talking to you about it, or doing sex education without going through you. So the parents'-rights movement of the social conservatives is completely consistent with the economic conservatives who don't want you stealing their money or running their businesses. Are there some people who get out there and sound as if the Republican Party movement was to tell other people what to do, apart from leaving them alone? Yeah, there's that kind of rhetoric. Does it show up in votes? No.

TNI: So you feel that it's just rhetoric.

GN: It's just rhetoric in the sense that the handful of guy stand up and say, "all of my people think X." It's just not true; they don't vote that way.

TNI: There will be a lot of jockeying in the months to define the message voters are sending with these midterm elections. Just what do you think they're saying?

GN: Don't do earmarks; earmarks are corrupting. Getting involved in the micromanagement of government is inherently corrupt. That's not what Congress should be doing.

TNI: What about Iraq?

GN: Well, it's a very interesting question. I need to look at the polling data more, but Iraq is a great big government program that has not worked out very well. Its proponents sound like George McGovern: "you just spent more money and redouble your efforts and hope government will work."

Foreign policy is treated differently in the United States than domestic policy, but the president needs to have the American people see that we have a policy to win and leave. He talks too much about winning and not enough about leaving. "Stay the course" when all you have is bad news all day doesn't sound reasonable to people. You need to explain: we're going to do this, this and this. The plan is what? And we're doing what? And we're going to get what out of it? I think the president needs to come up with a Vietnamization plan for Iraq that makes it clear this not some Hundred Years War.

TNI: Any other thoughts?

GN: You don't always get to win, and the Republicans now have to turn around and do a lot better.