Grover Norquist hates taxes. Jeb Bush made a career of cutting them as Florida governor.
Yet Bush won’t touch Norquist’s baby, the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which the antitax crusader tries to get every Republican candidate for state or federal office to sign.
Bush was asked about it again recently, at a conference sponsored by the Norquist-friendly National Review. Would he sign it? “No,” Bush answered, and then pointed to his Florida record, where by the end of his second term he had cut the state’s tax base by $1.8 billion a year against total collections of about $50 billion. “I don’t have to be told how important that is. I did it.”
So how did the Republican Party’s most famous tax enforcer get crosswise with the Republican almost-presidential candidate? The answer could be in quarter-century-old history, the aftermath of a budget deal struck by Jeb Bush’s father, then-President George H.W. Bush, in 1990.
Many conservatives in the party, Norquist among them, were outraged that Bush agreed to raise some taxes to help erase budget deficits generated under predecessor Ronald Reagan. After Bush lost to Bill Clinton, Norquist blamed it on the abandonment of the “no new taxes” pledge.
In a January 1993 op-ed in The American Spectator, Norquist wrote: “There is the stench of betrayal and treason in the air, and it comes from the biggest betrayal of all: George Bush’s decision in 1990 to tear the heart out of the Republican coalition.”
As perhaps Norquist did not appreciate, the easiest way to get on Jeb Bush’s wrong side is to insult his father, whom he’s been fiercely loyal to and protective of for decades. While George W. Bush sent Norquist a letter essentially mirroring the no-tax pledge during his 2000 presidential run, Jeb Bush has never agreed to Norquist’s pledge—through three runs for governor in 1994, 1998, and 2002, and now as he nears a presidential run.
In a phone interview with National Journal as he strolled through a bazaar in Istanbul, Norquist said he had no idea if Jeb Bush was irritated with him over his comments about his father. “You’d have to check with him on that,” Norquist said.
Neither a Bush spokeswoman nor Bush himself responded to National Journal queries about Norquist.
Bush’s attitude toward Norquist stands in contrast with a keen sensitivity that Bush has shown through the years to his party base’s antipathy toward taxes. As Florida commerce secretary in 1987, Bush publicly backed Republican Gov. Bob Martinez’s push to widen the state’s sales tax to include services in addition to goods—but privately wrote Martinez a letter saying he opposed the idea. In 1998, while running for governor himself, Bush was able to pull out the letter when the issue was raised by Democrat Buddy MacKay.
Bush’s refusal to pledge notwithstanding, Norquist enthusiastically praised Bush’s governorship as it was unfolding. In 2003, he told the St. Petersburg Times that he often pointed to Bush in meetings with other governors. “I use him as the model when I talk to the other governors, to shame them,” he said. In late 2006, with Bush’s tenure almost over, Norquist called Bush the best governor in the country and told The Palm Beach Post that he should run for president.
All of Norquist’s gushing, though, seemed a case of unrequited love.
Bush turned down meeting requests from Norquist during his two terms in Tallahassee. In 2003, Bush’s scheduler emailed him to see if he was interested in meeting Norquist the following week when he was visiting the Florida Capitol. Bush’s response: “Not really.”
Bush did meet with Norquist in 2005 (Bush told The Palm Beach Post that they spoke about “freedom and limited government”), but both Bush’s hostility toward Norquist’s pledge and Norquist’s criticisms of the first President Bush have persisted.
“If my father had thrown away a perfectly good presidency by raising taxes, I think one of the things in life that I would learn is, ‘Don’t do that,’ ” Norquist told Politico last fall. “But here you have Jeb Bush going, ‘I learned nothing from my father’s self-immolation.’ “
For federal officeholders, the pledge reads: “ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses; and TWO, oppose any net reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.”
The pledge is big business for Norquist and his group. In 2012, its last election year tax filing available, Americans for Tax Reform took in $30.9 million in contributions (with $26.4 million of that coming from Republican strategist Karl Rove’s Crossroads GPS secret-money political group) and spent 90 percent of it on expenses, including political ads, associated with its pledge. Norquist personally was paid $448,000 by Americans for Tax Reform and affiliated organizations.
Norquist told National Journal that he still admires Bush’s governorship. “His track record on taxes has been quite good,” Norquist said, and added that he hopes as the weeks and months pass, Bush will reconsider the pledge. “We’ll see how it goes. Jeb Bush hasn’t announced his candidacy yet. All the candidates who have announced have signed it.”
What We're Following See More »
"North Korea said on Friday it might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean after President Donald Trump vowed to destroy the reclusive country, with leader Kim Jong Un promising to make Trump pay dearly for his threats. Kim did not specify what action he would take against the United States or Trump, whom he called a 'mentally deranged U.S. dotard' in the latest bout of insults the two leaders have traded in recent weeks."
President Trump this afternoon announced another round of sanctions on North Korea, calling the regime "a continuing threat." The executive order, which Trump relayed to Congress, bans any ship or plane that has visited North Korea from visiting the United States within 180 days. The order also authorizes sanctions on any financial institution doing business with North Korea, and permits the secretaries of State and the Treasury to sanction any person involved in trading with North Korea, operating a port there, or involved in a variety of industries there.
In response to a reporter's question, President Trump said "he’ll be looking to impose further financial penalties on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic tests. ... The U.N. has passed two resolutions recently aimed at squeezing the North Korean economy by cutting off oil, labor and exports to the nation." Meanwhile, the Guardian reports that South Korea's unification ministry is sending an $8m aid package aimed at infants and pregnant women in North Korea. The "humanitarian gesture [is] at odds with calls by Japan and the US for unwavering economic and diplomatic pressure on Pyongyang."
President Trump on Tuesday night met with UN Secretary Guterres and President of the General Assembly Miroslav Lajcak. In both cases, as per releases from the White House, Trump pressed them on the need to reform the UN bureaucracy.