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Opinion: Want to Get Rid of Grover Norquist for Good? Vote in Primaries

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Grover Norquist isn't a powerful figure in D.C. because of his pledge. He isn't powerful because he sits on the board of the N.R.A. He isn't powerful because of his weekly strategy sessions. He isn't powerful because Americans for Tax Reform receives unheard-of amounts of anonymous corporate money. Grover Norquist is powerful because Americans are lazy.

For the past week or so, the media has been picking out what to wear to Grover's political funeral, and they are doing so because a handful of Republicans made public noise about breaking his pledge. Of course, they neglected to mention that most of those same Republicans were on the phone with Grover a little later practically begging for forgiveness.

I understand why the media didn't put a lot of emphasis on that part of the story. It would be incredibly appealing to see this smarmy, sawed-off, unelected, grandstanding little Napoleon go down and go down hard. But desperately wanting something to happen doesn't mean that it actually will.

The thing about Grover Norquist is that right now his power is implied. In order to see how powerful he really is, you would have to have a few Republicans actually break the pledge, and since everyone who signed the pledge is either a glassy eyed true believer or is completely scared to break it, Grover doesn't actually have to do anything except exist. He's running a protection racket, and he won't have to send the goons out to break kneecaps unless somebody breaks the rules.

The weapon that he wields is the threat of the primary election. If I'm Republican Representative Jenkins in the second district of Redstatia and I vote to raise taxes on the rich, then I can be certain that Grover will, without breaking any kind of sweat, get tons of money together to back some Gadsden Flag-waving retired Lt. Colonel who will do what he's told.

This marionette will run against me during the primary election in my district, and all available advertising time will feature him hugging his wife and children while saying, “My opponent promised he wouldn't raise taxes. But he LIED. I guess all that time in Washington has left him out of touch with what really matters.” To make things even more difficult, I will have a harder time raising funds to run my own ads because Grover will have re-directed the big money spigots to my opponent.

This is called “getting primaried,” and it scares the crap out of Republicans, and they are completely justified in being scared. Turnout in a lot of these elections is pathetically low. People have things to do. The kids need to be picked up. That big presentation is due. Half-price barbecue sliders are on sale at Applebee's. Pawn Shop Wars is on. People who are lukewarm or completely clueless about politics aren't going to be bothered over a primary election. Thanks to this mindset, Grover Norquist runs the Republican Party.

Wishful thinking isn't going to diminish Grover's influence. But everyone getting off of their collective lazy asses come primary day certainly will. 

I have voted in every single election that I was eligible to participate in since I turned 18. Presidential, Senate, House, State Senate, State Delegate, City Council, School Board (and I don't even have kids,) off-year, primary, special election, whatever. If it's voting day, I'm there. I tell myself that this makes me a concerned citizen who is involved in our glorious democratic process, but what this really makes me is a freak, because hardly anybody else does that.

But if my behavior was the norm instead of the exception, how terrifying would Grover Norquist actually be? What happens if a few pledge-signing Republicans break the pledge, get primaried, and then not just survive but crush Grover's handpicked replacement? That's when Grover Norquist stops being a kingmaker and starts becoming just another lobbyist.

Here's a little factoid for you: 17 states have what are called “open primaries,” which means that you don't have to register for a specific party to vote in a primary election. In Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin, you can dress up like Ho Chi Minh and still go marching into the polling place to vote in the Republican Primary.

Here's another little factoid for you: In these states with open primaries, 18 Republican Senators and 93 Republican Congressmen have signed Grover Norquist's pledge. If any of these folks manage to locate their spines and break the pledge, it would be very easy for democratic and independent voters to register their support for that particular act of courage. It might not appeal to a Democrat in South Carolina to hold his nose and vote for Lindsey Graham, but just because you vote for someone in the primary doesn't mean you have to vote for them in the general election.

There has to be someone in the Republican Party who realizes that being dogmatic about a tax rate that is the lowest it has ever been is pointless and bad for America, particularly when the country is in dire financial straits. Maybe it would take another pledge to give him the courage to act. Maybe something like:

“I, (Name of Voter in Your District,) promise to support you in the Republican primary election should you decide to break the Taxpayer Protection Pledge.”

It's up to the people who signed that stupid pledge to break it, but once they do, the rest is up to you. Tivo Pawn Shop Wars, get off the couch, and turn out on primary day. That's how you get rid of Grover Norquist.