Nov. 26, 2012: Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, also considered a moderate and leading GOP voice on fiscal matters, told CBS's Charlie Rose he would not be bound by his promise. "I'm not obligated on the pledge," he said. "I made Tennesseans aware, I was just elected, the only thing I'm honoring is the oath I take when I serve, when I'm sworn in this January."
So what does this all mean? The names of those who have come out against the pledge — from the old-line, moderate Republican Poppy Bush to the quintessentially heterdox McCain — are hardly surprises, and they're not enough to declare Norquist's influence dead. There are still 217 members of the House and 39 members of the Senate who are signatories. But Norquist may indeed lose this battle. He's already struggling with messaging. During an appearance at the Washington Ideas Forum on Nov. 15, MSNBC's Chuck Todd repeatedly pressed Norquist on why there was no mandate to raise taxes on the wealthy. After all, President Obama had campaigned and won on raising taxes for the wealthy; a majority of respondents in exit polls and other surveys say they back the move. The normally pithy Norquist seemed to have no answer.
Some of these disavowals may be more bark than bite. Norquist, publicly at least, isn't sweating it. "I don't think between now and 2014 that either the South Carolina senator or the Georgia senator will vote for a tax increase," he told The Washington Post. While the lawmakers make great show of trampling on the pledge, few of them have expressly avowed their support for a tax increase. McCain, for example, said he favored closing loopholes. Norquist, at WIF, argued that lowering taxes was actually the way to meet moderate Republican desires and raise revenue — although that relies on an economic theory that is disputed at best. And many of these dissenters have premised their willingness to violate the pledge on major reforms to entitlement programs, a vague and high bar that may be tough to achieve.
It's worth looking at these developments through a 2016 prism, too. Jeb Bush is already making noises about a run for president in four years. His family's past relationship with taxes is complicated. His father raised them in the name of fiscal discipline, and paid the political price. His brother, President George W. Bush, introduced the cuts that are due to expire at year's end, at the expense of greatly expanding the deficit. That deficit expansion makes the Bush name somewhat tarnished on fiscal matters; by disavowing the pledge, Jeb Bush can position himself as a pragmatic budget thinker, ready to reduce the national debt by all means necessary.