Anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist’s appeal in conservative circles appears to be simmering, as a growing number of the latest crop of rising Republican stars has openly declined signing "The Pledge."
Americans for Tax Reform, headed by Norquist, has witnessed an almost prolific hold on Republicans in Congress, exerting a proxy influence on legislation that sent lawmakers flocking in support just to earn the stamp of approval as certified genuine conservatives. Mitt Romney first signed the pledge in 2006.
In what was once seen as an election-season prerequisite for any Republican running for national office, signing the Americans for Tax Reform pledge -- Norquist’s contract locking-in lawmakers to “resist any effort” to raise taxes -- isn't as much a requirement.
Of the roughly 84 up-and-coming candidates recently handpicked for the National Republican Congressional Committee’s four “Young Guns” cliques, 39 have either declined or have yet to pledge allegiance to Norquist. Compare that to the six sitting House Republicans, out of 242 total, who have held off signing "The Pledge."
“On more than one occasion, I watched members of the media say that House Republicans will not vote for any tax increases because they signed,” Joe Coors, a Young Gun Republican competing in Colorado, wrote in a letter to Norquist. “To me, this claim is backwards: House Republicans are not against tax increases because they signed your pledge; they are against tax increases because higher taxes harm the overall health of the economy.”
But now, even rank and file Republicans are shirking on their anti-tax commitments, weary of the looming ledge of the fiscal cliff. "We are so far in debt that if you don't give up some ideological ground, the country sinks," South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham told ABC's Jonathan Karl.
And the pledge is not simply an empty promise. When news surfaced that Young Gun and former California state legislator Abel Maldonado had violated the pledge when delivering the critical vote in 2009, passing his state’s budget that effectively raised taxes, Norquist went on a public-shaming campaign to discredit Maldonado, awarding him his organization’s first-ever “Richard Rich Backstabber Award.” (Yes, that is actually what it's called.)
Time has not since healed Norquist’s sense of betrayal. “Abel Maldonado is a tax hiking Republican and voters should pay close attention to his record,” Norquist said in a statement last month in efforts to derail Maldonado’s 2012 congressional campaign.
Rep. Scott Rigell, R-Va., who joined the wave of GOP freshmen to latched onto the pledge in 2010, has since distanced himself from the contract’s main tenant, and offers similar advice to aspiring candidates.
"My advice and counsel to 'Young Guns' would be to not sign the Americans for Tax Reform pledge," he told The Huffington Post.