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Who's Afraid of Grover Norquist?

His once-mighty antitax “pledge” may not hold

For 25 years, Grover Norquist, president of the advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform and one of the most influential conservatives in Washington, has offered a simple warning to any politician who dared to flirt with the idea of raising taxes: “Don’t.” Those who sign his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge”—including 234 of 240 GOP members in the House, 40 of 47 Republican senators, and most Republican Presidential candidates—vow to “oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or businesses” and to fight the elimination of any tax deduction unless it is matched by an equivalent tax cut.

Subtlety is not Norquist’s strong suit. In a 2003 interview with NPR, he likened the justification for the estate tax to “the morality of the Holocaust.” He magnifies his influence by hosting other conservative activists at weekly Wednesday breakfasts in Washington and spreading antitax gospel through frequent television appearances. Over the years, Republicans have been reluctant to cross him for fear of being vilified. “If Grover says to the Tea Party, ‘This guy is a bad guy,’ that’s it,” says Bruce Bartlett, a former adviser in the Reagan White House and Treasury Dept. official in the George H.W. Bush Administration.