The Pledge: Grover Norquist's hold on the GOP

Steve Kroft interviews the man many blame for holding up the deficit-reduction process because of an anti-tax pledge that he enforces

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Norquist: No. We want it down to the size to where it would fit in a bathtub. And then it could worry about what we were up to.

Kroft: I mean, you did say that your ultimate ambition was to chop it in half and then shrink it again to where we were at the turn of the century. You're talking about 1900 not 2000.

Norquist: Well, the-- I think--

Kroft: Eight percent of GDP.

Norquist: Yeah. We functioned in this country with government at eight percent of GDP for a long time and quite well.

Kroft: That was before Social Security. It was before Medicare. It was before welfare assistance, unemployment assistance. Is that the federal government you envision?

Norquist: Each of these government programs were set up supposedly, in name, to solve a problem. Okay. Do they solve the problem? Could the problem be better solved through individual initiative? I mean, I think we've found under welfare that we are doing more harm than good.

Kroft: Do you feel the government has any obligation to the poor or the elderly or the unemployed?

Norquist: Yeah. It should stop stepping on them, kicking them and making their lives more difficult.

Norquist claims he got the idea to brand the Republican Party as the party that would never raise your taxes, when he was just 12 years old and volunteering for the Nixon campaign. He says it came to him one day while he was riding home on the school bus.

Norquist: If the parties would brand themselves the way Coke and Pepsi and other products do so that you knew what you were buying, it had quality control. I vote for the Republican. He or she will not raise my taxes. I'll buy one. I'll take that one home.

Kroft: So this is about marketing?

Norquist: Yes. It's a part of that. Yeah, very much so.

But Norquist says the success of any product requires relentless monitoring and diligent quality control to protect the brand, whether it's Coca Cola or the Republican Party.

Norquist: 'Cause let's say you take that Coke bottle home, and you get home, and you're two thirds of the way through the Coke bottle. And you look down at what's left in your Coke bottle is a rat head there. You wonder whether you'd buy Coke ever again. You go on TV, and you show 'em the rat head in the Coke bottle. You call your friends, and tell them about it. And Coke's in trouble. Republicans who vote for a tax increase are rat heads in a Coke bottle. They damage the brand for everyone else.

Grover Norquist is not interested in compromise. He likes things ugly and takes no prisoners. Those who refuse to sign the pledge or backslide are subjected to primary fights against well-funded opponents, backed by Norquist.

[Norquist: These are people in North Carolina who voted for a tax increase when they said they wouldn't. And down here in blue are which ones were defeated in the next election.]

Kroft: Well, is there any set of circumstances in which you would condone a tax increase? Or release people from the pledge?

Norquist: The pledge is not to me. It's to the voters. So an elected official who says, 'I think I wanna break my pledge,' he doesn't look at me and say that. He looks at his voters and says that. That's why some of them look at their voters, don't wanna say that, and they go, "Well, how 'bout you? Could you release me from my pledge?" No, no. I can't help you.