Republicans may be fleeing en masse from Grover Norquist’s tax pledge, but the beleaguered GOP power-broker still has at least one staunch backer: disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
With the fiscal cliff looming, a string of prominent GOPers including Sens. John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Saxby Chambliss, and Bob Corker, and Rep. Peter King, have publicly renounced Norquist’s pledge, which forbids lawmakers from voting to raise taxes, and has been signed by all but a handful of Republicans in Congress. That’s led some to suggest that Norquist’s ability to hold the line against tax hikes, and his influence within the party, may be on the wane.
But Abramoff—the longtime Norquist ally and Washington lobbyist who served four years in prison after setting up and running an extensive Beltway corruption scheme involving swindling his own Indian tribe clients and plying congressional offices with free meals, sports tickets and other perks—is having none of it.
“News of Grover’s demise is premature,” Abramoff told msnbc.com.
Abramoff allowed that Norquist, who since 1993 has run a key Wednesday morning meeting for GOP influentials, will be “buffeted” by the current political climate, in which some Republicans worry about seeming too extreme on taxes. But he said the political winds will soon shift back in Grover's, and the party’s, direction.
“I think Grover merely waits,” Abramoff said, “because one thing that the past four or five cycles have shown is this pendulum swings back and forth.”
Indeed, Abramoff expects that by 2014, higher taxes and an “anemic recovery” will lead even more Republicans to embrace the pledge.
“I predict that more people will be running on that pledge [next time] than now,” Abramoff said.
The two men have worked closely together since the early 1980s, when Norquist ran Abramoff’s successful campaign to be chair of the College Republican National Committee, where Ralph Reed was also a close partner. Two decades later, when Abramoff was running his bribery scheme in Washington, the two were still tight. According to reports, in 2001 Abramoff directed an Indian tribe client to make a contribution to Americans for Tax Reform, Norquist’s anti-tax lobbying group. Days later, the tribe's leader chief—along with Norquist and Abramoff—attended a meeting at the White House.
Speaking to msnbc.com, Abramoff—who since his release from prison in 2010 has joined a push for campaign finance reform—dismissed the Republicans who have repudiated the pledge as frequent apostates on tax questions.
“McCain and Lindsey Graham are people who have consistently chafed up against the conservative position on taxes,” Abramoff said. “Even Peter King ... on economic policy has never really been at the forefront of leadership in the party.”
That line echoed Norquist’s own response to the brouhaha. "Chambliss has been pushing this line since he joined the Gang of Six," Norquist said in a statement Monday. "Lindsey Graham has for two years said he would raise taxes if he got a 10:1 ratio of spending cuts through entitlement reform that could not be undone. There is no news in these two 'changing.'"
In any case, Abramoff said, Norquist’s reputation as the anti-tax enforcer has been exaggerated by the press.
“People have to understand what this tax pledge is: Big bad evil Grover Norquist forcing people not to raise taxes is not the reality,” he said. “The reality is, the pledge is a reflection of Republican opposition to tax increases. It’s not causing it, it is reporting it.”
Abramoff said it’ll take a lot more than this latest mini-rebellion to dislodge Norquist from power within the GOP.
“I think Grover holds on,” he said. “And I know Grover. Grover will hold on even if there’s no reason to hold on.”