« Truman's Ideological Heirs | The RCP Blog Home Page | Can DeLay Win? »

Grover's Groove & 2008

Jonathan Weisman suggested in yesterday's Washington Post that Grover Norquist's influence in D.C. has declined as a result of his Abramoff connections, most recently publicized in the Senate Indian Affairs Committee final investigative report. Michael Crowley, however, isn't buying the idea that Grover has lost his groove.

In a related, and far more interesting discussion, at least to me, Grover opines on the 2008 presidential race in an interview with the ediorial board of The American Prospect:

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.