Grover Norquist Goes Invisible

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Conservatives like anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist and agree with him on principle, but they do not like the idea of Democrats using him in powerful attack ads. "Grover Norquist has absolutely no power in Washington, D.C.," Joe Scarborough said on MSNBC Tuesday, and said that blaming him for the super committee's failure "is the greatest Democratic fabrication since the Tonkin Gulf incident." But it's not like Scarborough thinks Norquist -- whom he repeatedly called by his first name -- is some fringe activist. Scarborough himself signed the Americans for Tax Reform pledge just days after he was elected to Congress in 1994, back when the freshman class was nicknamed "The 'Shiites' of the House." Newsweek reported Scarborough was "so obsessed with dismantling government that he works on almost nothing else, and has had to be scolded about missing committee meetings."

House Speaker John Boehner has tried to portray Norquist as a minor Washington character, calling him "some random person" earlier this month, despite the fact that they've worked together for 20 years. He was answering a reporter's question about Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's ongoing campaign to blame the super committee's struggle on Norquist. Democrats have pointed to the comments of former Republican Rep. Alan Simpson, who sat on another doomed deficit panel, who urged members of his party to not be scared of Norquist. Conservatives have responded that Norquist doesn't matter, with Glenn Beck, for example, saying in August that Norquist was no more powerful than the Sesame Street puppet who shares his first name.

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The activist himself is usually somewhat modest, boasting to CBS News that Republicans hadn't voted for an income tax hike since 1990. "And this was your doing?" Steve Kroft asked. Norquist replied, "I helped. Yeah." On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page did not quite understand the Grover-who? memo. Its editorial about the super committee was published under the headline, "Thank You, Grover Norquist." But the editorial is probably the most accurate explanation of what Norquist means to the conservative movement -- it calls the idea of an all-powerful Norquist a "Beltway fable," but goes on to praise him for "reminding Republicans of their antitax promises" and showing the contrast between Democratic and Republican ideas about government.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.