STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Republicans may be searching for the best way to connect with voters, but at least publicly Grover Norquist has no doubt.
Do you agree with the proposition that's often been repeated that Republicans are looking for a new direction or their next direction right now?
Mr. GROVER NORQUIST (President, Americans for Tax Reform): No. I think the modern Reagan Republican coalition is exactly where the party is and where it's going to be five and 10 years from now.
INSKEEP: Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform. He spent years helping to build the Republican coalition that dominated congress and the White House until it collapsed in 2006.
Mr. NORQUIST: President Bush spent three or four years of his presidency doing an imitation of the mayor of Baghdad. Read his speeches. It's all about some other country. You know, where was he talking about reducing taxes, reforming government here in the United States, tackling spending?
INSKEEP: Norquist is our latest guest as we sample some conservative thinking this week. He says he's more satisfied than some conservatives with the state of the party and it's likely presidential candidate, John McCain.
Why do you think it's been difficult or seemed to be difficult for large numbers of Republican voters to get excited about a presidential candidate this year?
Mr. NORQUIST: Well, there are a number candidates, all of whom - the cheerful news runs ass follows. Everybody running for president claimed to stand where Ronald Reagan stood. The criticism was, well, Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, you in your past did distinctly un-Reagan things and raised taxes and spending. Governor of Massachusetts Romney, you in your past have not been where Reagan was on social issues. But everybody claims to want to be, and I think wants to be largely, where Ronald Reagan stands.
INSKEEP: All thought the guy who's getting the most votes now, John McCain, even though he also will say wants to be where Ronald Reagan stands, is someone who seems to be dismaying to some conservative activists, even if he's attracting millions of votes.
Mr. NORQUIST: Two reasons for that. First of all, remember, he, as in the Agatha Christie novel "And Then There Were None," pretended to be dead for a year, and so no one was throwing anything at him. All of the other candidates...
INSKEEP: Meaning that his candidacy collapsed in the spring of 2007 and...
Mr. NORQUIST: And he was campaigning wisely in New Hampshire, but when the candidates debated, and when talk radio show hosts decided to throw a punch at somebody for being ideologically flawed, they'd hit Huckabee. They'd hit Romney. They had hit Giuliani. 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 everybody piles on with all of the comments and criticisms that would've been spaced out over some previous year.
INSKEEP: Now, wait a minute. Wait a minute though. Because part of the reason that this guy disappeared for almost a year, as you point out, is because he made conservatives unhappy. He made conservatives unhappy on taxes. He made conservatives unhappy on campaign finance reform. He made conservatives unhappy on immigration reform. We can go on and on for quite some time on issues like that, and this is the guy who ended up attracting millions of votes in the end.
Mr. NORQUIST: Well, what did he campaign on? He campaigned on strong national defense. He campaigned on being very good on taxes in this election cycle.
INSKEEP: He said that he supports making the tax cuts permanent that he voted against at one time, yes.
Mr. NORQUIST: That he will continue to make them permanent. That he will veto any tax increase, period. That he wants to cut the corporate rate form 35 to 25 percent. That he wants to have full expensing. That he wants to borrow abolish the AMT.
INSKEEP: The alternative minimum tax.
Mr. NORQUIST: The alternative minimum tax. In addition to being the Americans for Tax Reform's entire agenda, that is a very pro-growth set of policies he's put forth, and he articulates why they're important.
INSKEEP: How significant will it be that the apparent Republican nominee is a guy who supported immigration changes as oppose to favoring, say, kicking out all 11 of 12 million illegal immigrants?
Mr. NORQUIST: That McCain is running with the pro-immigrant policies of George W. Bush and Ronal Reagan will save the Republican party form a disaster, as they found in 2006.
The Republican Party was doing very well with the Hispanic vote going in to 2004 with George Bush, and it collapsed in 2006 in a, you know, one year frenzy of hysterical anti-immigrant rhetoric, which is bad for the country and bad for the Republican Party.
INSKEEP: Is there a danger that immigration becomes or continues to be what you might consider a wedge issue for the Republican coalition? You're either reaching out to that Hispanic vote that might be there or you're reaching out to people who feel much more conservative on that issue and it's hard to satisfy them both.
Mr. NORQUIST: Well, if that happens, there's a challenge. The good news is that polling data shows exactly where the modern Republican Party should be. People who said that they were for securing the border did not lose any votes with the Hispanic community and kept people who are concerned about too many immigrants.
If you say I want to enforce the law, which means deport people, you hemorrhage among Hispanic Americans and among white women. To go from secure the border which is a rational position to deport people is to lose the next generation and to lose power in America.
INSKEEP: What's the biggest danger for the Republican Party at this moment?
Mr. NORQUIST: 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. 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 that when they go one on one with Democrats on tax spending issues they crush them.
INSKEEP: Grover Norquist is author of a forthcoming book called "Leave Us Alone." Thanks very much.
Mr. NORQUIST: Thank you.
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