Mutiny! Dissension in the ranks! A break in vows to the almighty Norquist!
The news that four well-known Republican members of Congress have said they would consider breaking the pledge they made to Grover Norquist’s anti-tax group, Americans for Tax Reform, is sending shockwaves through the political establishment. On Sunday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said on ABC’s “This Week With George Stephanopoulos” that he would violate Grover Norquist’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge if Democrats worked to reform entitlements.
Also on Sunday, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he does not believe in “iron-clad positions” like Norquist’s pledge. That follows Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), who came out last week and said “I care more about my country than I do about a 20-year-old pledge.” Finally, on Monday morning, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) added his name to the list of rebels. He told CBS’s Charlie Rose that he too was “not obligated to the pledge.”
Who knows whether these four men—or the others who seem likely to follow their prominent peers—will actually vote in favor of a tax increase to resolve the fiscal cliff. The two parties are apparently even farther apart than it may seem, and saying you’ll do something politically risky is completely different than actually following through on it. That’s especially the case when the specter of a “Read My Lips” moment hangs over politicians’ heads.
Yet the leader who has the most to lose by the cracks in the Norquist pledge is not any representative who stands up against it and risks offending some voters, but the man who started it in the first place. Norquist’s power base, after all, has always been shaky. All it will take is a few powerful Republicans to actually break the pledge, and the wall will come tumbling down. The pledge’s strength—and Norquist’s power—lies in its universal acceptance among powerful Republicans. If that falls, so does Norquist.
The very proof that a leader really matters is that he or she can refuse to follow, in lock step, with his or her peers. It’s about rejecting conventional wisdom, having the courage to go right when others go left, and being willing to open oneself up to criticism to do the right thing for the greater good.
As a result, I think Republican leaders who can find a sensible, rational way to defend a break in the pledge stand plenty to gain. After all, their oaths of office were made to their country. They should do what they deem fiscally sound for their constituents, not make decisions based on fear of a bespectacled man who has called Republicans who vote for a tax increase “rat heads in a Coke bottle.”
Jena McGregor is a columnist for the Washington Post’s On Leadership section.
More from On Leadership:
Like On Leadership? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter: