Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist has emerged as the Republican establishment’s leading crusader and mouthpiece against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), repeatedly denigrating Cruz for fighting against Obamacare with a tactic that Norquist alleges hurt Republicans.
Obamacare is wreaking havoc on the healthcare choices Americans have in addition to forcing employers to reduce employees’ hours in an already down economy. This has put a spotlight on many of the law’s failures in a way those like Norquist were never able to do in a sustained manner.
Norquist has single-handedly tried to obliterate Cruz in nearly every outlet that has given him a microphone. He has said Cruz’s effort to defund Obamacare never had a chance to work without mentioning that Cruz had said Democrats in red states could be persuaded to support defunding Obamacare only if Republicans were united first, which was what Cruz sought to do from the outset.
Cruz likened Republicans who were opposed to the defunding efforts to the Air Force bombing their own troops, undermining the chances of success.
Before and especially after the government shutdown, Norquist attacked Cruz for throwing Republicans into traffic and wandering away. He has said Cruz has dragged Republicans across broken glass, dismissed Cruz’s “tactic,” condescendingly suggested Cruz was now wiser, said Cruz has “crashed and burned,” and even demanded that Cruz apologize not only to Republicans but to the constituents for whom Cruz was fighting and to whom he was listening.
Norquist’s fight against Cruz represents the broader struggle within the Republican party between an establishment desperately clinging to its past power and a growing grassroots-powered conservative movement that represents the future.
“Grover supplies grass-roots power, which is why lobbyists want him on their side,” Republican insider John Feehery said of him last decade. “He senses where he can get activists around the country riled. He’s a master organizer on specific issues.”
But in the age of new media, such establishment gatekeeping organizations are less relevant as information–even about inside Washington and its players–is democratized. Those like Cruz can galvanize the grassroots and put pressure on politicians in a way only those with the financial and institutional resources like Norquist had been able to do before.
And now Norquist is not happy with his newfound competition which doesn’t just purport to reflect the wishes of the grassroots; it actually is the grassroots. Simply put, Norquist represents the past in which Republicans came to Washington vowing to change it only to be changed by it. Cruz represents the future in which conservatives are elected and immediately go to work trying to drain the Washington swamp and obliterate the bipartisan ruling class that Cruz has said is not listening to those outside the Beltway.
For too long, Norquist has been a symbol of Washington’s ruling class on the Republican side in which big-business interests have used those like him to mobilize Republican voters for their ends.
When the Bush administration and Republicans who controlled Congress were expanding the size and scope of government last decade, Norquist became one of the faces of the crony capitalism against which the Tea Party was in part formed. Just as Bush claimed that TARP was needed to save capitalism when bailing out Wall Street, Norquist told the Wall Street Journal ten years ago that the growth in government under George W. Bush was needed because “we are investing in order to reform.”
As the Journal described, the gist of Norquist’s argument was that “much of the growth is short-term and aimed at programs to make government more effective, helping conservatives to meet long-term goals of shrinking government.”
The growth of government, though, has helped Washington’s permanent political class the most, as Washington has turned into the country’s preeminent “Boomtown” in the ten years since Norquist said government had to be expanded in order to make it smaller. Government has continued to grow, as have the bottom lines of those who are able to game the system and play both sides, which Norquist himself had done the last decade with a lobbying group he founded. For instance, Norquist lobbied for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before fighting against them. He fought for the Defense of Marriage Act, as PJ Media noted, before joining the board of an organization (GOProud) that is fighting to overturn it.
Not much has changed for Norquist. He is a proponent of amnesty and comprehensive immigration reform and has supported House Speaker Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) in budget negotiations since the 2010 elections, when the Tea Party gave Republicans control of the House.
Yet, the media and political landscape is remarkably different than it was a decade ago.
Conservatives have been fed up with the type of double-dealing and games that have gone on within the Republican establishment during the last decade, in which groups are pitted against others in legislative fights to pad the bottom lines of so-called Republican leaders. And Obamacare, with its array of rules that need to be repealed or which require exemptions, would allow Republicans to continue the double-dealing games by forcing those who needed exemptions to buy the services of those connected in Washington. The average Americans Cruz represents who lack insider connections would be left out in the cold.
Unlike ten years ago, conservatives now have the Internet and social media to mobilize against the Republican establishment. They do not need to rely on Republican gatekeepers to find candidates to support or oppose.
While he was fighting to defund Obamacare, Cruz often talked about the “paradigm shift” that is occurring in the country, in which those in the conservative grassroots are relying less on top-down Republican organizations because of new media. They are instead gravitating toward candidates like Cruz who they view as fighting for them and listening to them in Washington.
Norquist and others in the Republican establishment see this as a threat and are trying desperately to squash it to retain their influence. But in so doing, they seem to have made Cruz more popular. A national poll of Republican primary voters by Public Policy Polling, an organization that leans to the left, recently found that Cruz is now viewed not only as the 2016 frontrunner in the GOP presidential primary, but also as the politician Republicans view as their leader in Congress.