Friday, March 31, 2006

Is it over, Grover?

Last night I popped over to the National Constitution Center to hear Grover Norquist, one of America's most influential conservative leaders, and a key comrade to everyone on the right, from Karl Rove to his old pal, the convicted felon-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
I was curious about whether Norquist, who has spent his career working for a permanent Republican majority, would be downbeat about the GOP's prospects in the 2006 congressional elections, given the fact that a restive electorate is generally likely to focus its ire on the party in power.
I was also curious, because of Norquist's combative nature, and famed reluctance to cede any ground. This is a guy, after all, who once said that "bipartisanship is another name for date rape," and said, at another point, "It is not good enough to win; it has to be a painful and devastating defeat....It is like when the king would take his opponent’s head and stick it on a pike for everyone to see.”
So, what about these '06 elections? Could the Republicans lose control of either the House or Senate?
With someone like Norquist, it pays to listen between the lines. His short answer was that, no, such a disaster will not happen, in part because the economic indicators are strong, and in part because the Democrats have not recuited enough top-notch House candidates this year.
Grover is right on the recruitment; according to non-partisan analyst Charlie Cook, "Democrats have missed a number of opportunities....Of the 86 Republican-held districts that we consider to be the most potentially vulnerable...there are 37 where Democrats have a candidate who meets at least a minimum standard of credibility. Still, we consider just 17 to be top-caliber challengers." On the other hand, citing the prevailing voter mood, Cook last weekend told NBC that "the Republicans will be lucky to hold onto anything."
Indeed, Norquist did hint that a voter revolt is possible, because of what he also called "a perfect storm" of recent events: the Katrina debacle, the Harriet Miers court nomination that angered so many conservatives ("a self-inflicted wierd wound that I still don't begin to understand"), and the milestone of the 2000th American soldier killed in Iraq.
Iraq is much on his mind: "If Iraq is in the rear-view mirror in October, then Republicans will be fine (on election day). If Iraq is in the windshield, right in front of you, then there are more challenges."
Challenges...That's the kind of word that CEOs use when they talk about the prospects of falling profit margins.
In the National Review today, conservative analyst Rich Lowry is far blunter: "The GOP still has a few things on its side — time (the public mood could shift before the fall); gerrymandering (so few congressional districts are competitive that it will be difficult for Democrats to find enough to pick off); and events (maybe, just maybe, Bush does get lucky somewhere). But none of this goes to the White House’s real vulnerability: Intellectually, it is running on empty..."
Anyway, Grover also had some thoughts on 2008. He thinks, for instance, that Hillary Clinton has the Democratic nomination sewed up already. He painted a tableau of the primary season debates, in his inimitable way. Hillary aside, he envisions "six or seven munchkins all sitting around, kicking each other under the table...They'll throw things at each other, while sucking up to Hillary, because they're all running for vice president."
He thinks a Hillary nomination is good news for the GOP, but he can't predict who'd oppose her. He likes George Allen, the Virginia senator, and Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, because they're competing for "the center of the Reagan coalition." But he doesn't like John McCain (the feeling there is mutual; there's still bad blood from 2000, because Grover assailed McCain as a tax-hiker).
But let's finish with more on the '06 races. It can be argued that the sour public mood is also influenced by the cash-for-access sweetheart deals that have beset the governing party over the past few years. Norquist has not been charged with any wrong-doing, but he has played a pivotal role in augmenting Jack Abramoff's insider influence.
He and Grover have been political comrades since the '80s, and over the past decade the lobbyist got his Indian casino clients to steer at least $1.5 million to Grover's tax-exempt Washington organization, in exchange for Grover-facilitated access to powerful GOP politicians (as detailed here). Two weeks ago, in fact, the New York Times reported that the chief of an Indian tribe represented by Abramoff got access to President Bush in 2001, just days after the tribe paid Grover's group $25,000 at Abramoff's direction.
What about that, Grover?
"We have hundreds of significant donors. We have brought hundreds to the White House. It's possible there was overlap of one or two."