Just a few months back, Grover Norquist was routinely being called "the most powerful man in Washington" — or even America. But now the Americans for Tax Reform impresario seems to be in one of the tighter spots of his storied career as a campaigner for "starving the beast." As "fiscal-cliff" negotiations continue, with President Obama and Democrats holding a strong hand, more and more Republicans have announced their willingness to break the Norquist-sponsored pledge not to raise taxes that many have signed.
While there were several high-profile defections this weekend, the strife between ATR and elected GOP officials has been progressing in slow motion for months. Here's a timeline:
Nov. 3, 2011: Setting the tone for the year ahead, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, shruged off a question about Norquist's influence in the GOP caucus. "Our focus here is on jobs," Boehner said. "We're doing anything we can to get our economy moving again and get people back to work. It's not often I'm asked about some random person in America."
May 27, 2012: Professional maverick and former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, cochair of the president's debt-reduction commission, kicked the door open on CNN with characteristic panache. "For heaven's sake, you have Grover Norquist wandering the earth in his white robes saying that if you raise taxes one penny, he'll defeat you," he said. "He can't murder you. He can't burn your house. The only thing he can do to you, as an elected official, is defeat you for reelection. And if that means more to you than your country when we need patriots to come out in a situation when we're in extremity, you shouldn't even be in Congress."
June 1, 2012: Testifying before the House Budget Committee, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush blasted the pledge. "I ran for office three times. The pledge was presented to me three times. I never signed the pledge," he said. "I cut taxes every year I was governor. I don't believe you outsource your principles and convictions to people. I respect Grover's political involvement. He has every right to do it, but I never signed any pledge." Norquist called Bush's comments "humiliating, embarrassing."
June 12, 2012: Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told ABC he believed lawmakers require more flexibility than the pledge provides, saying increased revenue is essential to paying down the national debt. "When you eliminate a deduction, it's OK with me to use some of that money to get us out of debt. That's where I disagree with the pledge," he said. "And if I'm willing to do that as a Republican, I've crossed a rubicon.… We're so far in debt, that if you don't give up some ideological ground, the country sinks."
July 13, 2012: Jeb Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush complained about unwillingness to raises taxes among his own party in an interview with Parade magazine: "The rigidity of those pledges is something I don't like. The circumstances change and you can't be wedded to some formula by Grover Norquist. It's — who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?" In August, Norquist fired back at Bush, who lost his 1992 reelection bid after raising taxes, despite his memorable campaign pledge "Read my lips: no new taxes." Bush "lied" in doing so, Norquist said.
July 15, 2012: Tom Coburn, the staunchly fiscally conservative Oklahoma senator known as "Dr. No," took to The New York Times editorial pages (of all places!) to argue that Norquist is "increasingly isolated politically." Coburn says Democrats have used the ATR pledge as a political tool, claiming that congressional Republicans refuse to compromise because their hands are tied, when in fact Norquist has little influence inside the caucus.