We retired Tax Justice Blog in April 2017. For new content on issues related to tax justice, go to www.justtaxesblog.org
For years, conservatives and many moderates have believed that signing Grover Norquist’s no-tax pledge was a ticket to electoral success. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But on election night 2012, it began to look like the pledge was actually a liability as signatories to it were sent packing by voters in states from New Hampshire to Ohio to California. While the results are still coming in, at least 55 House incumbents or candidates and 24 Senators or Senate hopefuls who signed the pledge lost on Election Day. That means in the next Congress, the number of pledge-signers will be 264 at most, down from 279, and Grover’s fans could potentially become the minority in the House, with only 216 seats, according to reports from Bloomberg (link not available).
Rather than a boon, in many Senate races signing Grover’s pledge turned out to be a burden this election year. In the Ohio Senatorial race for instance, Republican State Treasurer Josh Mandel attempted to portray himself as an independent and principled thinker, but this image was tarnished by the fact that he had signed the no-tax pledge. In fact, Mandel gave a pretty limp response to his opponent, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown (who ultimately won the race), who pointed out during a debate that signing the pledge equaled “giving away your right to think.”
Similarly in Massachusetts, tax policy became the focal point of difference between Republican Senator Scott Brown and Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren. During a debate between the candidates, Warren warned voters that “instead of working for the people of Massachusetts” Brown had “taken a pledge to work for Grover Norquist.” Such criticism helped voters see that he was not as independent from conservative influence and the Republican Party as he liked to portray himself in deep blue Massachusetts.
Earlier this year, the stranglehold of the no-tax pledge on the Republican Party and candidates was already showing signs of cracking as a substantial number of Republican candidates either refused to sign the pledge or repudiated their former fealty to it. Leading the charge, Virginia Republican Representative Scott Rigell advised fellow Republicans to not sign the pledge and ran explicitly on the platform of taking a balanced approach to deficit reduction. In contrast to many of his colleagues who lost running on the no-tax pledge, Rigell was easily re-elected to his House seat.
Moving forward, we expect more lawmakers will realize that taking a dogmatic anti-tax approach is not only bad policy, but that it’s also increasingly bad politics.
Picture of Norquist in a bathtub courtesy the New Yorker magazine.