Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform (Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg)

RD: You broke party ranks last year by refusing to renew your pledge not to vote for any future tax increases. Since when do Republican congressmen dare to defy Grover Norquist?

JF: My responsibility is to make judgments about hard, complex issues that I believe to be right. Simply looking at the status quo and suggesting that the tax code is sacrosanct and can never change, and that decisions made in the ’80s and ’90s can never change, is absurd. The tax code is weighted toward the ultra-wealthy and ultra-wealthy corporations, and has created an offshore aristocracy of people who can afford to hire an army of accountants and lawyers. This shifts the tax burden to small businesses, entrepreneurs, and others. I don’t want to see taxes go up on any hardworking American. We need a simpler, fairer tax code. Removing special-interest loopholes could potentially increase revenues and allow for lower rates.

Despite his populist tone, Fortenberry’s position on taxes isn’t a radical break from the GOP orthodoxy: John Boehner himself says he wants to close tax loopholes, though he admitted only grudgingly that this means some people’s taxes will go up. But part of the GOP strategy is to give all appearances of embracing a hard line, and the Norquist pledge is part of that.