Pajamas Media will be bringing you a series of newsmaker interviews with elected leaders and the people who shape policy, analyze the news, advise candidates, and help run political campaigns. We will ask them the questions we think you would want to ask. We invite all our readers to contribute ideas for people they would like to hear from and what they want to learn about the movers and shakers who drive politics.
To kick off our series we sat down with Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform and author of the much-acclaimed book Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government’s Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives.
Is the economy really in another Great Depression or are the Democrats and the mainstream media exaggerating our economic woes for political gain?
Norquist replies, “Well, we haven’t actually had a quarter of negative growth. We are not in a recession. That is two quarters of negative economic growth.” But he agrees, “The economy has slowed.” And he lays the blame largely at the feet of the Democratic Congress which, he reminds voters, enacted policies ranging from ethanol subsidies, which raised food prices, to expensive energy to refusal to extend the Bush tax cuts. Given all that, Norquist says, markets are “rationally anticipating a tax increase.” He cautions that if the Bush tax cuts expire the hit to the stock market and everyone who invests in it will be four trillion dollars. He says, “I would be surprised if the economy was not reacting poorly.” (After our interview, it was reported that in the final quarter of 2007 GDP contracted 0.2%.)
Should John McCain and GOP Congressional and Senate candidates be running against the “do-nothing” Congress like Harry Truman did in 1948?
Norquist responds instantaneously, “It not just ‘do-nothing.’ They have damaged the economy.” He points specifically to the failure to extend the Bush tax cuts. As for the McCain campaign, Norquist grows animated and says that it is foolhardy for McCain to focus so heavily on Iraq as his and Barack Obama’s positions have converged on the future withdrawal of troops. He asks, “How do you win an election on that? If you say, ‘But I had a better position two years ago,’ then he [Obama] says, ‘I had a better position five years ago.’ You are not going to win by being smarter two or five years ago.”
What should McCain be running on?
Norquist says that it is on the economy where McCain “can crush Obama.” Norquist says, “Obama has twenty-five positions. Every one of them will make your 401k smaller. He does not have an economic position to increase growth.” He says that you “may be one of the lucky few” who benefit from his income redistribution plans, but his plans to hike a wide array of taxes won’t increase growth and jobs. As for McCain, Norquist says “McCain has twenty-five ideas, twenty-four of which will make your 401k bigger.” The exception, says Norquist, is his “on again, off again” plan to limit global warming.
Are free trade, small government, and tax cuts still winning positions for Republicans?
On free trade by Democrats, Norquist says, “The Democratic Party went into opposition” and decided they “could not win without Big Labor’s money.” Norquist says that it is far from clear that running on protectionism pays off. He notes, “There are more free traders elected going back to Ronald Reagan.” As for limited government, Norquist says, “A Republican who argues ‘My big government is better than your big government’ is going to lose.” He continues, “If Republicans win it will be on an anti-tax and energy message.” He also isn’t buying the notion that tax cuts have lost their political relevance as top marginal rates have come down from 50% to approximately 35%. He says, “This election is about whether 35% goes to 50%.” Norquist counsels that like the villain in a western, Democrats always tell the hero to “put down the gun and talk” when the discussion moves to taxes. Democrats, Norquist says, “want Republicans to drop the tax issue and have the election.” McCain, Norquist advises, needs to “focus on the tax increases and spending increases Obama’s publicly committed to. Obama is the first Democrat since Mondale to promise to raise your taxes. Even John Kerry ran on a tax cut.”
What about Republicans running for Congress?
Norquist says, “They should run on the same thing: lower taxes and fewer regulations.” He reminds voters that Ronald Reagan ran on a platform of “Give us freedom and we’ll do the rest.” He says, “What part of that doesn’t apply?”
What about VP picks for McCain — who would excite and who would horrify conservatives?
Norquist says that in the “excite” category he would put Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal. He also says Mitt Romney and Tim Pawlenty would be “just fine.” On the other end, he warns strenuously against Joe Lieberman, cautioning that he is “left of center on everything but the war.”
Is this a winnable election for Republicans?
Norquist does not miss a beat: “If they run on taxes and spending.”