As a conservative interested in cutting taxes and limiting government spending, Grover Norquist is largely pleased with Sen. John McCain as the probable Republican presidential nominee. The president of Americans for Tax Reform says McCain's fiscal priorities are in line with classic Reagan principles that the party has stood for.
Norquist spent years helping to build the Republican coalition that dominated Congress and the White House — until it collapsed in 2006. He says President Bush's occupation with Iraq took the focus off conservative principles.
"President Bush spent three or four years of his presidency doing an imitation of the mayor of Baghdad," Norquist says. "Read his speeches. It's all about some other country. Where was he talking about reducing taxes, reforming government — here in the United States — tackling spending?"
Norquist says he's more satisfied than some other conservatives with the state of the Republican Party and McCain.
Before most of his opponents dropped out of the Republican race, McCain largely escaped criticism from conservatives, Norquist says.
"When candidates debated and when talk-radio show hosts decided to throw a punch at somebody for being ideologically flawed, they'd hit [Mike] Hucakbee, they'd hit [Mitt] Romney, they'd hit [Rudy] Giuliani," Norquist says. "No one threw a punch at McCain for an entire year. Then, he gets to be the obvious, almost-certain nominee, and for a 10-day period everyone piles on with all of the comments and criticisms that would have been spaced out over the previous year."
McCain has pleased fiscal conservatives by promising to make President Bush's tax cuts permanent, cutting the corporate tax rate and repealing the alternative minimum tax.
But immigration is also a key to success for Republicans, Norquist says.
"To go from 'secure the border,' which is a rational position, to 'deport people' is to lose the next generation [of Hispanics] and to lose power in America," Norquist says.
"The Republican Party needs to focus on dealing with the immigration issue in a way that does not antagonize Hispanic voters or damage the economy," he adds. "And they need to focus on American domestic politics while maintaining a strong position in terms of national defense. They need to focus on the tax-and-spending issues. ... When they go one-on-one with Democrats on tax and spending issues, they crush them."