The Washington Post

‘Who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?’ asks George H.W. Bush

There appears to be no love lost between Grover Norquist and former president George H.W. Bush.

Former president George H.W. Bush and wife Barbara attend the premiere of HBO's new documentary on his life.(Charles Krupa/AP)

“The rigidity of those pledges is something I don’t like,” Bush responded. “The circumstances change and you can’t be wedded to some formula by Grover Norquist. It’s -- who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?”

Bush’s wife, former first lady Barbara Bush, was seated next to her husband for the joint interview. She quipped of Norquist: “I think he ought to go back to Alaska.”

The comment was a reference to a 2010 interview in which the former first lady said that she believed former Alaska governor Sarah Palin (R) was “very happy” in the Frontier State – and that she hoped she’d stay there.

Democrats have sought to cast Norquist as the driving force behind Republicans’ opposition to tax increases of any kind. While Norquist’s anti-tax pledge has been influential, the GOP conference has seen some small shifts on the issue in recent months, as The Post’s Rosalind S. Helderman reported in May.

And there’s a case to be made that the GOP is driven by anti-tax orthodoxy anyway, Norquist or no Norquist.

That’s the argument House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made when asked late last year about the anti-tax activist’s influence on House Republicans. At the time, congressional negotiators on the bipartisan “supercommittee” were working to forge a grand bargain on addressing the debt.

Boehner’s response?

“It’s not often I’m asked about some random person in America,” he said.

Norquist, for his part, responded to Bush’s quip via Twitter on Friday by linking to a quote from a March 1992 interview in which Bush called the fact that he went back on his pledge “a mistake.”

“I thought this one compromise — and it was a compromise — would result in no more tax increases. I thought it would result in total control of domestic discretionary spending. And now we see Congress talking about raising taxes again. So I’m disappointed, and given all of that, yes, a mistake.”


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