So much happened yesterday, and I was away from a computer for most of the day, that I was left nearly speechless.
Perhaps the most interesting was Grover Norquist’s comments on Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee. Grover’s whole schtick for over a decade has been his tax pledge. You sign the pledge to not raise taxes. And then he beats you up and calls you a liar if you do. More likely, your future primary opponent beats you up and calls you a liar. It has never been obvious to me that the same logic applies to a Presidential candidate, but Grover has tried.
One of the startling things in the last debate was the number of candidates who have not signed. That seemed to represent a tangible weakening of his stature. Giuliani, John McCain, and Fred Thompson, 3 of the 5 top-tier candidates refused to sign. Mitt Romney flip-flopped to sign. And Mike Huckabee’s signature seemed …. dubious? But the story seemed clear. Grover would have to go with Romney because of the combination of Huckabee’s record and signing the pledge. But that’s not how it is playing out.
First of all, Grover defends Huckabee to the Christian Broadcasting Network:
He has signed the pledge and he has promised to veto and oppose any efforts to raise income taxes … So he’s made that commitment.
Now, Club for Growth has been rough on him because of his period when he was governor. We had arguments with him when he was governor because he supported too much spending and too much taxes as governor…
But then he launches into this "convert" language that borrows Romney’s language on abortion:
So some people say ‘If you’ve changed your mind, we don’t like you,’ but that’s not my position. I believe that when people say I used to be pro-choice but now I’m going to be pro-life and here’s why, if they can make a credible argument as to why they have switched in their position, I think we should accept converts. That’s what winning looks like."
I hear both an acceptance of Huckabee and a warning to Romney. "Back off. You are making the same argument in a different place. Don’t go there." Now, this is all kind of predictable because Huckabee signed the pledge. Although, I am a little surprised by the pointed language on abortion.
But what about Giuliani? Marc Ambinder described Grover’s statement as a "non-endorsement endorsement" and "[t]hat’s as close an endorsement as you’ll get from Mr. Norquist." But Rudy didn’t actually sign the pledge.
My friend Patrick Ruffini, a former Giuliani consultant, has described Rudy’s fiscal conservative outreach this way:
ATR’s Grover Norquist today became the latest fiscal conservative leader to shower praise upon Rudy Giuliani: … Say what you will about Giuliani’s conservative outreach, but fiscal conservatives have been unusually kind to the Hizzoner. First there was the Steve Forbes endorsement. Then the glowing Club for Growth report. And now this.
He even frames the whole thing as:
Giuliani and Huckabee are the ying and yang of the GOP field. One is strong on fiscal issues and weak on social ones. The other is… the opposite. Unlike discerning minute differences in the shades of gray between Clinton and Obama, a Giuliani-Huckabee final would give Republican voters a real choice about the future direction of the party. That is, if Huck can topple Mitt in Iowa…
Of course, while Rudy has committed to not raising taxes, he has not signed the pledge. And Grover has been a strong advocate of fusionism. Like Marc, I can’t help but see this as a Giuliani endorsement. But something seems strange here. How can Grover praise Rudy like this in light of his pledge stance?