Critics Corner with Grover Norquist
On this episode of Critics Corner, Oren is joined by Grover Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform. They discuss the nature of the right-of-center political coalition, whether the average GOP voter simply wishes to be “left alone,” the state of the American economy, and how public policy can help the average household and worker. Spoiler: Oren is not convinced to sign the tax pledge.
- “Republicans Should Continue to Champion the Consumer Welfare Standard” by Grover Norquist in The Washington Examiner
- End the IRS Before It Ends Us: How to Restore a Low Tax, High Growth, Wealthy America by Grover Norquist (2015)
About Critics Corner
Today’s public policy debates consist primarily of people conversing within their own echo chambers while tuning out disagreement. To make progress on contentious issues, we need to better understand opposing perspectives, clarify points of agreement and disagreement, and collaborate on finding a constructive path forward. American Compass has no shortage of critics, so we figured, let’s have them on a show.
Critics Corner brings together those who disagree—whether on fundamental questions or specific policies—in the spirit of American Compass’s commitment to combining intellectual combat with personal civility. Neither debate nor interview, it’s a conversation between people eager to identify the source of their disagreements and the potential for common ground.
Oren Cass: I think a good place to start would probably be with what is the Conservative Movement, but what is the coalition? What has it accomplished? And how well is it doing right now? How do you define those things?
Grover Norquist: Sure. People used to say that we had a three-legged stool. You have the social conservatives, the economic conservatives, and the foreign policy conservatives, and that was the coalition, the fusion that put together the modern Republican Party. The problem is the free market economics pretty well written out, absent the Soviet Union, what’s the unifying thesis of defense? And social policy, well, define how. So that didn’t really work very well. The way that the modern Republican Party, the Reagan Republican Party, the Conservative Movement operates is that it is a coalition of groups, individuals, and structures that on their vote moving issue, what they want is to be left alone by the government.
So if you sit around the table, and we put together an actual meeting of the Leave Us Alone Coalition weekly in DC. Right now, it’s 160 people virtually from all over the country and around the world. And there are 40 state versions of that meeting and 26 international overseas versions of that meeting. And when you go around each of those tables, who’s there? Start with the American table. You have people who are around the table because on their vote moving issue, they wish to be left alone.
Homeschoolers just want to be left alone to homeschool. They’re not asking for a homeschooler appreciation day or a holiday or anything they just want to be left alone. People who had sacrificed to get their kids into a charter school, either independent or even a public charter school, three million, they want to be left alone and be able to have that, not have the unions or the city come in and take that opportunity away from them.
Small businessmen and women, self-employed people, guys in the gig economy than 60 million Americans get some of their income from a 1099, independent contractor income. They’re their own boss to that act to the extent that they do that maybe a second job or a third job, and millions have it as a primary job. About a million franchisees, self-employed people, they run their own show. They have the dignity and not only of work, but of control of what they do. And they fear organized labor.
And the Democrats, as happened in California, passing laws to ban most independent contract relationships. When California went to the polls, as they were voting for Biden, they were also voting down the law SB-5, which banned independent contractors and would make people available to become unionized and regulated, not their own boss. And at Americans For Tax Reform, we have about 600 videos of people explaining why it’s important to them to be self-employed, to be an independent contractor, have a side hustle and how it gives them time with their family and maybe they can homeschool.
Now all of these opportunities of people who wish not to be left alone by labor unions and government telling them how to run their own lives in their workplace. And then people with 401ks and IRAs who recognize that they’re not just workers, they’re also investors. 53% of Americans have a 401k or an IRA. Everything the Democratic Party does will make your IRA worth less. Everything the Republicans want to do, except for trade wars, make your IRA or 401k bigger and more successful and your retirement more assured.
Go around Second Amendment Community, 20 million Americans with a concealed carry permit. They have a personal relationship with their firearm, they’re in control of their family’s safety. Police are never the first responders, you’re always the first responder. You can respond poorly if you’re not armed, but the police come and do the chalk mark around your body and that’s the government service for you. What happens when dad or mom has a gun concealed carry? They can always protect their family and their kids and their family. And the 17 million people hunt, they have a more distant relationship with their firearm than people with concealed carry permits.
So as you go around the table, all the communities of faith, what do they want? They want to be left alone to practice their faith and transmit it to their kids. They’re not asking for Baptist stamps, they’re not asking for the government to go outlaw Episcopalians. They don’t want everybody to be told they have to be one thing or the other. And that’s why you can have conservative Catholics, Orthodox Jews, Muslims, Mormons, Evangelical Protestants, all standing together saying, leave us alone, give us religious liberty and we will take care of our kids and we will run our own lives.
And so around the table, what people want is to be left alone. It’s not all a question of cash, it’s a question of being left alone, do what you want. And what’s most important to you. Not everybody votes on 12 issues. Can’t vote on 12 issues because candidates don’t always agree on 12 issues, but there are people for whom they have a key vote moving issue on election day. It’s not always the same. It’s frequently the same for a long period of time.
And so around that table, the reason why the center-right coalition holds together is that nobody wants anything at the expense of anybody else. Taxpayers, don’t raise my taxes, investors, don’t tax or regulate me or my business or my self-employment out of existence. And so the guy who wants to make money all day looks across the table at the guy who wants to go to church all day and says, “That’s not how I spend my time.” And they both look over at the guy who wants to find all this gun all day and say, “That’s not how we spend our time,” but it doesn’t matter. We all vote for the candidate who looks everyone in the eye and says, I’m going to leave your guns alone. Your kids alone, your education alone, your ability to work alone, your definition of what work is for you alone, and where are you going to do it and how you’re going to do it.
And then everybody can go out and spend the rest of their lives, running their lives not having to play politics all day. The left’s coalition, which is also intact, and that coalition has been there since Reagan recognized it, it hasn’t changed in 40 years, except you add vapors in. You’ll probably have fewer people, the guys who don’t like helmet laws, there aren’t maybe as many of them as there used to be, but there are a whole series of groups that come in and go become more or less important as issues come up. 13 million people they’ve quit smoking, they’re saving their lives, they feel very virtuous, Democrats want to make it illegal. Cost the Democrats the Senate race. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin was elected, as he said on TV on election night because of the vapor vote, they organized every vape store in the place and said, Ron Johnson wants you to live. The other guy, just has you, as soon as you die, it moved votes. He pulled ahead of Trump in that election. It was a vote-moving issue.
Oren Cass: I’m going to jump in here. So leave us alone as a framework is certainly coherent and concise. I guess maybe it’s useful to think both in sort of substantive terms about its wisdom and then also in kind of political terms, how it gets translated. And I guess maybe even just on, on political terms first, you’ve certainly listed a lot of fronts on which it seems like a lot of voters do want to be left alone. I think conversely, there seem to be a lot of issues where they don’t. And so taking Social Security and Medicare as an example, I mean, getting beyond the famous keep your government hands off my Medicare sign, there seems to be quite widespread, even within the right of center support for preserving and even expanding entitlements.
Tremendous concern, for instance, about access to and coverage for healthcare. When it comes to sort of defense, there tends to be, I think, enthusiasm for a fairly large and robust military. And so when you go through sort of the big buckets of in particular, what the government actually spends on, it seems like leave us alone isn’t actually the ethos. Or do you see kind of large areas of how the government, what it is actually doing and how it’s spending its money that this coalition would say, actually, we want you to stop doing that.
Grover Norquist: Well, first of all, when you go into a political campaign, Romney for instance, had Paul Ryan on his ticket and Paul Ryan laid out the plan for how to deal with entitlements. You block rent, all the means-tested entitlements to the states. There’s plenty of support for that. We were within one vote of ending Obamacare and means testing and sending out means-tested Medicaid out to the states and having it grow no faster than people’s incomes. We could have saved about…
Oren Cass: Sure, but you’ve just shifted from what your voters around the table want to what the GOP politicians in the Senate want. I think if we’re staying on kind of your coalition of actual voters and their interests. I mean, I think it’s going around the table movement.
Grover Norquist: If you’re going to run a movement, your elected officials and your voters better be in sync. And that is why the fact that Ryan spent so much time making sure that both people in office understood it again. We were one vote away and only because the President poked McCain on voting day and the McCain changed his vote to no, over the next 30 years, it would have saved about $16 trillion that one thing alone. It’s a huge missed opportunity, but the question is, are you willing to reduce spending? Yes, there’s a path to that. Romney and Ryan were capable of articulating it, it’s where the house and Senate are, and it’s also not in conflict with anybody in the Leave Us Alone Coalition. In fact, they would much rather have 401ks and IRAs than Social security, if you give them that option, particularly younger people see that as well. And at some point you want to get away from the Ponzi scheme of social security, where they take your money and give it to dad. And then when you get old, they take your children’s money and give it to you, and there are no savings going on at all. We talk about why is there a wealth gap in America, it’s social security because it’s fixed savings. And the government tells you they’re saving your money. They’re not, they’re spending it the day after you send it in to them. But instead, if you do what a number of countries have done, which is move to a fully-funded system, and as many states are doing. Utah completely did about seven years ago, all pensions in Utah are 401(k)s, IRAs.
Remember also to get away from the idea that everything’s in Washington. When you look at the States, when I would argue that not only does the Leave Us Alone Coalition explain why everybody’s in the room. And for almost 30 years now, we’ve had the center-right coalition work, all the moving parts of the modern Republican coalition meeting. And everybody recognizes both that the Leave Us Alone Coalition explains their presence because of the issue where they want to be left alone, but also why everybody can work together.
On defense, I think there’s a very clear point where there’s a percentage of the population that by Leave Us Alone, they include a national defense and crime are two issues where people want to be left alone and they see the role for the government in having a national defense to keep the Canadians on their side of the border, as well as a police force that isn’t stealing your car through civil asset forfeiture but is actually going after criminals. So there’s support for the police when they’re doing police work and the military when they’re protecting the country and the debate within the Republican Party is, is occupying Iraq, defending the country or not? And so it’s not that everybody agrees with everything, but all Republicans agree we should be doing this in what protects America. We have disagreements about how you get to protecting Americans and we have.
Oren Cass: And so how much is in the typical 401(k)?
Grover Norquist: 401(k)s, well, 53% have them. And the question is, how long have you had them out there? And the longer people have them, the more money is in there. And it becomes an important part of who they are. If you have $5,000 in a 401(k) or an IRA, you are 20% more likely to be a Republican than you were before. It is a huge shift. It is one of the major reasons why people shifted from 1960 to the 1990s as more and more Americans were in the market and looked and could see the stock market go up and down and it mattered to them because they owned some shares. You don’t have to have a lot.
Oren Cass: Sure, but I mean, I guess my sense is that to your point about half have a 401(k) at all. My understanding is that the median 401(k) has maybe $30,000 in it, $20,000 to $30,000. And so you’re talking about 75% of Americans then, with 30 K or less, which to your point is certainly an important source of savings and something that gives them a stake in the market, but conversely represents less than one year of retirement savings. And so when you talk about the kind of saying that Americans would prefer that model to social security, is that in the thinking that, but for social security, they would have the full savings of a retirement in that account, or how would that work?
Grover Norquist: Right now, the government takes 15% out of your pay in social security taxes. That money could have been going into your 401(k). So obviously you want to go into a defined… We’ve been doing this at the state level. The private sector has been doing it completely, moving from the kind of pensions that the United Auto Workers have to the kind of pensions where people have portable pensions. You can move from business to business, you can move from one job to another. You can be self-employed, you can work for others. And it gives you portability to be able to move and to have control of how much you put in there and what you do with it.
So it is a big factor in keeping people focused on wanting to be left alone and recognizing that an open and free and successful market is important. And it’s not, when you raise taxes on businesses, you know, the corporate income tax that they passed was a very important project for American workers and voters, because just as the Trump people said going two years in, end of 2017, they passed that bill. And it was over 10 years, 330 billion in corporate taxes and international cuts and one trillion for individuals. It was weighted way towards individuals rather than to… And much of that in the per-child tax credits and so on.
But on the 330 corporate down over 10 years, you saw in 2019 and 2019 alone, the median family income increased 6.8% or $4,400. That’s median, not average. Average means Bill Gates makes a billion dollars, the average increases. Bill Gates makes an extra billion dollars, doesn’t move the median. Tens of millions of people have to move up to get the median income to move the 50 out of 100 persons in line was a huge increase in income. Why? Because as we’ve known from economics, somewhere between 50 and 70% of the corporate income tax is paid by workers in lower wages. And therefore when you reverse engineer that and take the corporate rate down…
Remember, we took the individual rates down under Reagan, and then the Bushes kept trying to do that too. And they missed that we were 35 corporate, which was one of the lowest in the country, in the world when we did it in 86, and then the whole world saw how successful it was. And everyone came in under us. By the time that Trump was willing to take the 35 down to 21, we had the highest marginal tax rate in the world, higher than France, higher than China. Communist China was at 25. We were at 35. And so we took it down to become basically barely competitive with the rest of the world, still too high, but it’s competitive. It’s at 21. Plus, the six average state and local income tax, that allows you to compete with the Europeans, a little higher, they’re at 22.5. And our friends, China is at 25.
We need to get the corporate rate down more, but when we did that, we had a sustainable pay increase. Remember all tax cuts are pay increases. All tax increases are pay cuts. And so when you’re trying to talk to workers about getting them more work and more wages, the taxes taken out are a big factor in what they get to take home. But on the corporate rate, it’s a big factor on how much money you’re going to make, because the corporations took that money, invested it, take the dollar and tax savings and hand it to you. They took the dollar and tax savings, invested in making you more productive and worth $4,000 more every year because you’d go someplace else if they didn’t. And then the pay increased to meet the productivity gains that the cuts in the corporate income had.
Oren Cass: I want to dig in on this a little bit. So you’re saying that the Trump corporate tax cuts in 2017 led to significant increases in investment in 2018 and 2019, which led to significant productivity gains that then led to the household income gains.
Grover Norquist: Which is exactly what Hassett said would happen when they were putting the bill together.
Oren Cass: Okay. Is there any economic evidence that either corporate investment or productivity rose in 2018 and 2019 faster than it had been?
Grover Norquist: Oh yeah. Well, and pay did.
Oren Cass: Well, no, no, I understand that wages rose, you just clarified it, but it’s not just that they gave them the money. You said that what happened was this led to higher investment levels and that led to higher productivity and that led to higher pay.
Grover Norquist: Yeah. You saw money coming back into the United States from overseas because of some of the weird things we did to keep American cash trapped overseas. You had that more investment directly in the United States, and you had higher levels of this… Oh yeah, also, all the broadband massive investment and so on, all flowed from that tax cut. And it was very, very helpful. So, that was a particularly important part.
But the other piece to this, because the establishment press is always willing to announce the Republican Party has just died. They did it in 1964. They did it at Goldwater, ’74 after Watergate. They did it in ’86 when the Republicans lost the Senate. They did it again when Obama got elected. They did it when Clinton got elected. And they keep announcing that we’re about to die. But in point of fact, if you look at the strength of the modern Republican Party, 24 states have a Republican governor in both houses, and you got another seven states, 31 states have both houses Republican. That means the state wants to be Republican, but in Louisiana, our candidate had too many girlfriends. But 31 states elect both houses Republican, and of those 24 have a Republican governor as well. And they’re governing well. And if you look at the successful states that have lower unemployment and are doing better economically, it’s the red states compared to the blue states, exacerbated by the lockdowns that the blue states did and the additional welfare spending by the blue states.
And we’re talking today, Friday, yesterday, Arizona voted to move to a flat tax, 2.5% on the way to phasing out the income tax in Arizona. New Hampshire voted to make itself completely income tax-free and to give a $4,500 stipend to every student whose parents make less than $80,000 a year. The money that used to go to the school now goes to the parent and it can go to homeschooling, parochial school, public school, private school, anywhere. It’s a massive school choice effort in New Hampshire, a state that wasn’t there in the past on that. And then North Carolina just voted to phase out their corporate income tax completely. And to take their corporate rate down from five to about 3.9, which is a significant tax cut there.
And Republican governors are passing legislation and legislatures to allow doctors and anybody else with a government license, the state license to do anything. If you’re licensed to be a registered nurse in New Hampshire, you can walk into Arizona and get a job. This is passing state by state. It’s going very, very well. Giving people much more ability to move from place to place. You’re seeing laws that the Republicans are passing, allowing Airbnb, which makes everybody with a home, their own small businessman. They can rent out one of the rooms in their home. This is being done by millions of people all over the country. Now their house is an asset. It’s not just what they live in. It’s an income-producing asset for them and the Democrats, of course, want to regulate that out of existence or to make it much more difficult. But in the red states, we’re doing much more better in creating these opportunities for people. And that’s why the Republicans are holding the House, holding the senates in these state legislative bodies, and we’re doing so despite redistricting attacks against us in Florida and Arizona and in North Carolina over the last previous 10 years. Democrats are always talking about redistricting. They’re very good at gerrymandering, and a number of those are being undone now. We also undid the one that they had planned in Missouri, so they won’t be gerrymandering the Republicans out of their commanding position in Missouri.
So the Republican Party actually, apart from when Trump scared some suburban women and we lost the House and we’re getting that back, running women, running Reagan Republican women, who are voting the leave-us-alone coalition.
Remember, the other key part to this is before 1994 … 1994 is when 98% of Republicans running for office signed a pledge never to raise taxes, because they saw what happened with George Herbert Walker Bush raised taxes and threw away a perfectly good presidency and lost an election he should’ve won. But he lost because he raised taxes, broke his word.
So everybody said, “Okay, we’re going to take the pledge, win the primary, take the pledge, get elected, keep the pledge, get reelected.” In the 62 years before 1994, the Republican Party held the House and the Senate. US Congress runs this country. Presidents start wars every once in a while. Congress raises taxes, cuts taxes, spends money, passes laws. President signed bills, or not. Congress runs the country. We had a one-party state from 1932 to 1994, interrupted for four years. The Mexicans kept less control of their government pre … over that 62-year period, so four years of 62. Since the Republican Party became the party that would not raise your taxes, might invade small countries they can’t pronounce and lose the Congress, but 60% of the time they’d won the House and the Senate since ’94. 60%. Not one out of 15 years, 60%.
This is why the Democrats are in a panic, and it’s why the tax issue is the central starting point. Do not raise taxes. Now what else you got? And if you walk in with that commitment, then the Republican Party is competitive with the modern Democratic Party, which it was not before.
And add to that the support that we give to workers to avoid being trapped into unions, to avoid having to have union dues taken away from them, the tremendous success of the Janus Bill, which means all government employees can never be forced to join a union. Janus has not fully taken effect because some states have passed laws that will have to be struck down, and making it tough for workers to say, “I don’t want to be a member of this union. I don’t want to pay dues.” It’s a thousand dollars for a teacher who makes a base pay of $50,000. In Wisconsin, for instance, $50,000, they pay a thousand dollars in dues. That’s a lot of money and now that can all belong to the workers themselves, so it’s a tremendous step forward in being able to get that done.
Oren Cass: Yeah. Labor is an interesting issue in this context, I guess, thinking about the fortunes of workers generally. I guess I’m curious what your assessment, looking back over some period of years, is on what has happened for the typical worker and his household or his family. You’ve mentioned some of the ways that there are obviously many more different forms of work now available. Whether that’s turning on the app in your car to earn money ride by ride, or whether that’s, I guess, converting your house into some sort of boarding house, there are certainly new sources of revenue available. But I guess, depending on how you look at it, it also seems like, for instance, wages haven’t increased very much over the long run. And it is increasingly difficult for a family, especially someone, say without a college education, to make ends meet. Do you disagree with that basic picture of what’s happened? Or do you see it differently?
Grover Norquist: Oh, no. Absolutely. Look, the government takes by force a third of the income that Americans burn and spends it as they want to. I mean, as a percentage of the economy, government’s about 33%.
Oren Cass: Okay, sure. But let’s start talking about … The government isn’t taking 33% of the income of your median family of four.
Grover Norquist: No. But it’s taking it out of the economy and spending it the way it wants to. And it’s done devastating things. They spend $17-20 trillion on the Great Society. And what they did was make a whole bunch of people dependent, made them less able to get to work, subsidized non-work. Dad? Somebody you could … “Well we don’t need dad. We have a welfare check.” I mean, it tore families apart. It did tremendous damage to the American family and to working people’s ability to get ahead and take care of themselves. So one of the things we need to do is stop doing things that are stupid and destructive to people. And again, as Paul Ryan and Romney were talking about, block grant all the means-tested programs, get them out to the 50 states, make them grow no faster than people’s wages.
Oren Cass: I just want to understand the argument here. Are you saying that the expansion of the welfare state has suppressed the wages of the typical worker?
Grover Norquist: Well if you’re not working, for starters, yes.
Oren Cass: That’s why I use the word “worker.” If we’re talking about somebody who is working, I’m trying to understand how the growth of the welfare state would have worsened his position. If anything, I would have expected it to better his position. If it’s reducing the number of workers, or increasing the reservation wage, I’m just not clear on the logic of how the welfare state affects how much someone who is working and trying to support a family is earning.
Grover Norquist: Well for starters, the money that you spend on welfare has to be taken from somebody. And it’s taken in taxes. And if you take it from a corporation, the corporation can raise prices, which is not helpful for workers because they have less ability to pay for the things that they need to do in their life. All the government regulations that make it difficult for people to work more than they can, I mean, the number of … US Chamber of Commerce had a list going into the first Trump years of a million jobs that are waiting on a permit. A government permit was denied, and there were a million jobs ready to go if the government would allow a permit for a new bridge or a new road or a mine or something like that.
So government permitting, government regulations, a lot of the more extreme environmental stuff kills work. It makes you not able to do things that people would like to do. And one of the ways you can increase your wages is to work more frequently, as opposed to sporadically on and off if you’re in construction. Certainly, the zoning laws make it difficult to build houses in the United States. Jack Kemp used to point out that a quarter of the cost of a new house were regulatory burdens. That makes it difficult for people to have the size house they want for their family, and it makes it more expensive for them to buy the house, and it delays the house getting done. I mean, there are a whole series of things.
Step one. Is the government doing something that makes somebody worse, makes things worse off? Is the government doing something that isn’t in the Constitution, and is doing something that’s stupid and destructive? Let’s make a list of those things and stop doing them. And that makes people’s life a lot easier than otherwise. Allowing people to move from one state to another and take their occupational license with them just makes life easier for workers. It’s easier to get work.
And again, the lower taxes you have, the more people create jobs in that state. You’ve seen the numbers on people moving from blue states to red states, from the high spending states to the low spending states, from the high tax states to the low tax states. The idea that people want more government would make sense if people were moving to the high spending states, if they thought that they were getting real quality. I mean, in New York, they spend twice per capita on government what Florida spends; they must be getting something for it. Right? Or maybe not. If you want to move to New York and to get all those goodies or whatever it is they think people are getting, it’s twice as expensive government in New York. And I don’t think their government’s any better than Florida’s.
Oren Cass: Well, I at least had been asking about the wages of the typical worker who was working and trying to support a family. And I think you certainly make a good point that taxes take something out of the economy, regulations interfere with economic activity. Presumably, that affects the businesses as well though. And so I suppose one of the striking disconnects that we see is between the rate at which wages have risen versus the rate at which profits and share prices have risen. So in your mind is there a reason why these kinds of government interventions that you’re describing are that it makes sense that they would be having this effect on the worker, but not on the business?
Grover Norquist: No. I think it’s been damaging all the way around. When we cut the corporate rate, every American with a utility bill saw their utility bills reduced. Why? Because the utility commissions allow federal taxes to be passed straight through to people who have water and natural gas or electricity utility bills. And so you saw people getting hit with higher utility bills because of the higher corporate taxes. When we cut the corporate tax rate, they got reductions in what the utility bills were going to be. And there are going to be substantial increases if the Democrats put it back up again. So this stuff … Democrats like to, “Oh, we have to tax corporation. I won’t attack you.” Well, it affects you if you pay utility bills. And it affects you if you work for a corporation, because where do you think they get the money? They pay you less. They raise prices. You can’t tell investors, “Oh, we’re going to be sending you …” They can lend the money to somebody else in another country if they want to.
So there’s a lot of pressure on making those corporate taxes actually coming right out of the hides of workers. And politicians do nobody a favor, except themselves, when they pretend the corporate tax … The corporations don’t pay taxes; corporations collect taxes. They collect taxes from consumers, some from investors, and some from workers and lower pay.
Oren Cass: Okay. Well, I guess we’re almost out of time. I guess we should spend a minute or two talking about kind of where we’re going from here. I always like to use the kind of 2024 primary hypothetical as kind of an interesting way of thinking about what’s next on the right of center and for the Republican party. I suppose obviously one question looming over that is whether former President Trump is running. But putting that aside, when you think about kind of what you would want to hear the message be of a candidate running, and what you think is going to be the most successful message, is it straight up the leave us alone message? Are there other things that you would sort of add to that, or you think it is mostly just the leave us alone?
Grover Norquist: Well, leave us alone is enough to win elections because it incorporates whatever it is that the government’s doing that irritates a specific person. That’s why it matters. This is not a theory that one places on things. It is from sitting around and working in the modern Republican party for decades and realizing why is everybody in this room? And when you asked them, there was one thing the government was doing that was hurting them, their family, their hopes, their faith, their education, whatever it was, their ability to defend themselves. And it became pretty clear everyone does have a vote. And you know what? Nobody’s asking the government to go steal other people’s money and give it to them. That’s not what moves their vote. And that’s why the coalition holds together.
If you want to know what works or what the next president’s going to do, look at the governors. Look at the governors. They’re moving school choice. They’re giving the taxpayer dollars, instead of giving it to the school, they’re giving it to the parents. Their past education savings accounts in Arizona, expanding them, Florida. The education savings accounts, where it’s like a health savings account or an IRA, but so you can save the money that they were giving you to go to some private school, K through 12. You can save some of that up and use it for college as well. So it gives you a lot of flexibility.
I think the radical school choice, and President Trump said this the other day in an article, every dollar that’s spent on education should be attached to a child and they should take it where they want to go. And that gets you into the business of moving to real colleges or training programs that really do something for people, not just make them feel good about themselves. And if you’re paying for it with money that you control, you’re going to spend more time working on it.
So what’s radical school choice, lower taxes, the Republican governors all across the country are cutting taxes and working on less regulation, protecting independent contractors. Millions of Americans are full-time, independent contractors. 60 million get at least one independent contractor check. That’s a lot of people. And then focus on getting more people to be able to put more money into a 401k, an IRA, and to have more choices on health care in terms of choice.
So these are the issues that I think you’ll see people running on. The second amendment is always a key issue. Watch for that. I mean, 20 million Americans with a concealed carry permit. Concealed carry was illegal in just about every state going back 30 years. It’s a pretty big change in people’s operations. Homeschooling was illegal in all but two states 30 years ago. So as you open up and create more liberties, people will step in to defend those liberties and create a political… The charter schools that are being defended against the unions and the Democrats are trying to shut down the charter schools and defund them. All the Democratic presidential guards had to swear that they would kill any federal funding for charter schools and that’s what they’re working on. That’s where we get parents and working parents to say, “This is important to me,” and it’d be very helpful, was very helpful, probably elected the Republican governor in Florida on that issue alone.
So you put a couple of those issues together and you increase your numbers. I do think we’re going to see more people sharing the discussions about crime and the increases that crime is taking place and the Democrats’ lack of seriousness in punishing crime. But that completely fits into a leave us alone coalition where people wish that where there’s something the government’s doing, it’s actually useful and it’s in the Constitution and it’s something the government’s supposed to do and can do it well or poorly.
Oren Cass: All right. Last question for you. Is there anything that you don’t think fits the leave us alone framework, especially thinking about economic issues and having markets that work well for folks? Do you see any place where the message should be anything besides “leave us alone” or better to stick with that?
Grover Norquist: Well, but again, leave us alone is issue specific, okay? And people are voting because they wish to be left alone on an issue where the government’s bothering them. And so that brings together a coalition. Again, the Republican coalition is not asking the government to give them things because they’re smart enough to know they can’t give you anything they first don’t steal from you. So we’re the adults in the room and people tend to get that. And it allows us to not be in favor of funding stuff that buys Democratic precinct workers cushy jobs. And I think the question of building a broad center-right governing coalition…
And again, we almost got the House this last time. We should’ve had the Senate. If we’d been focused on Georgia, we would have. And where we are at the state level state, legislative races, governor’s races, statewide elected guys, the modern Republican party is very, very strong. The left is always trying to announce that we need to rethink everything. They always tell us, get rid of the tax issue, get rid of the tax issue. The reason why the Democrats and the press they get rid of the tax issue is the same reason that the second to the last scene in the movie, the guy says, “Put the gun down and we’ll talk.” And if you’re stupid enough to put the gun down, the movie goes on for another 10 minutes. The Democrats recognize the power of the we’re not going to raise tax issue because it wins elections, gets you governors, get you state legislatures, keeps the House and the Senate Republican in a way that it never was before. And that’s a powerful step one.
And then of course, if you’re not going to raise taxes, you need to reform government so it costs less. And that’s where particularly block granting federal things to the states, because then you have 50 states that can try 50 different things. And if Vermont does something really cool, we’re all ears. Okay? I’m not betting on it. But with 50 states, somebody will do it well. When we did this with welfare, aid to families with dependent children, there were tremendous savings to be able to target resources to people who needed it. And every state, except Hawaii, saw dramatic reductions in the cost of welfare. Aids to families with dependent children, that’s something that should be done with every means-tested program. There are four big ones and a couple hundred small ones.
Oren Cass: Okay. I guess I’ll try the, maybe it’s a slightly different question. If you look at the economy, is there anything you see that government should be doing? Or is it just that they should be getting out of the way?
Grover Norquist: Well, the government paves roads and stuff like that, but what they should be doing is taking the permitting from 10 years down to one, and also getting rid of the Davis Bacon Act, which is an act passed to keep blacks from the south out of work in New York. They specifically said so on the floor of Congress when they passed it. Davis Bacon Act says that you have to pay union wages, which means you don’t give somebody a start in life. You wait until they’re a member of the union and you bring them in. Raises the cost of everything the government builds, which is why the government doesn’t build things very well.
Most states now have repealed their mini Davis Bacon Act, even West Virginia recently, Kentucky recently, union strongholds. They said, “This is ridiculous. It’s hurting the state. We’re not getting school buildings built. We’re not getting roads built.” So make a list of all the things that government does to make government cost too much and interfere with people’s lives and stop doing those step-by-step. Make people’s lives easier.
The FDA, right now they say we take X number of years to make sure that a drug is safe. Good idea. And then we take X number of years to decide it’s effective. Well, as soon as it’s safe, why are you holding it back from people? And we actually got a law passed called Right To Try passed in 40 states and then at the federal level says if you’ve got a terminal disease and it’s something safe, it’s not going to kill you faster than what you got, you can try it and you don’t have to wait another four years when you’re dead to maybe have a shot at something that might work. And they’ve had some things that have gotten out sooner, and we’re doing better at this.
A whole series of things you can do on healthcare. Right to know where doctors can tell you what they’ve learned in using drugs for different things that are off-label. Right now, they could tell you one-on-one, but they couldn’t write an article about it. That’s illegal. So information is kept from people that would make people get better sooner. Telemedicine, which was… This is the first crisis, the pandemic, where the government quit doing things and you saw occupational licensing across state lines for doctors to start with, but then everybody. You saw people being able to buy liquor drinks and take them away from restaurants. Now they’re going to be able to do that regularly so restaurants can get a cup to go. All sorts of get out of the way stuff, and including telemedicine, which is very helpful if you live a long way away from a big city and it’s very helpful if you want to show somebody a picture of something without going across state to just talk to a doctor about it or across town to talk to a doctor about it.
These are tremendous liberalizations that are all about getting the government out of the way of getting things done. And the governments right now is so large, it’s in the way so much, we have years and years of just disentangling nonsense to get down to a government that’s competent to do the things you want a government to do, like get the Canadians on their side of the border and make sure China doesn’t eat us.
Oren Cass: All right. We’ll leave it there. Grover Norquist, thank you very much for joining us and we will leave you alone.
Grover Norquist: We got it. Take care.