As a matter of political strategy, Americans for Tax Reform’s Grover Norquist came up with a pretty effective tactic when he crafted “the pledge.” As we discussed a few months ago, the idea is entirely straightforward: Republican candidates, up and down the ballot, are asked to sign a promise never to raise any tax on anyone by any amount for any reason.
If a proposal increases government revenue, under the Norquist framework, Republicans must approve comparable cuts elsewhere.
In time, the pressure on GOP candidates took root: Republicans who wanted to win, especially in a primary, came to recognize the intra-party expectation. Sign the pledge or lose.
The more popular the tactic became, the more bipartisan policymaking became practically impossible, especially at the federal level. It wasn’t long before Norquist’s pledge developed a reputation as a mindless, knee-jerk obstacle to good governance.
But Republican presidential candidates keep signing it anyway. The conservative Washington Times reported:
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has signed Americans for Tax Reform’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge vowing to “oppose and veto any and all efforts to increase taxes,” the group said Wednesday.“Governor Chris Christie has vetoed more tax hikes than any other governor in modern American history,” said Grover Norquist, president of ATR. “And he made those vetoes stick. Without the Christie governorship, New Jersey would be somewhere between Detroit and Greece.”
The New Jersey governor joins Marco Rubio, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Carly Fiorina, Rick Santorum, and Ben Carson among GOP presidential contenders who’ve added their names to the Norquist pledge list.
They’ll probably soon have company: Scott Walker, Bobby Jindal, and Mike Huckabee “have all previously signed the pledge in some capacity,” and are expected to do so again this year.
It’s not a positive development. As we talked about in April, as recently as 2012, Lindsey Graham and others began publicly criticizing the pledge as unconstructive. House Speaker John Boehner suggested he’s not crazy about it, either.
Jeb Bush, to his credit, rejected the very idea of the pledge, boasting, “I ran for office three times. The pledge was presented to me three times. I never signed the pledge. I cut taxes every year I was governor. I don’t believe you outsource your principles and convictions to people. I respect Grover’s political involvement. He has every right to do it, but I never signed any pledge.”
There was growing talk that Norquist’s pledge was an unhelpful obstacle that responsible policymakers knew to ignore. Three years ago, when Norquist organized a meeting with congressional Republicans, demanding they respect his authority, “at most 20 members” showed up.
And yet, here we are, with Republican presidential candidates rushing to embrace the pledge anyway. Much of the GOP apparently can’t help itself.