Never mind that his brand of politics is bad for democracy, Grover Norquist, the professional conservative from Washington, D.C., is living large.
Sure, the two-sentence no-tax pledge he promotes is taking some hits. Some congressional Republicans have denounced it, even though most signed it knowing it'd help them win office.
Google the guy, and there are more than 4 million hits. His name and the term "fiscal cliff" come up in almost 500 news articles. He regularly holds forth on the cable news shows. It all adds to his clout. But what's good for this self-promoter is not good for the country.
Just as he inserted himself into California's tax fight last year, Norquist is at the center of the current fight over taxes in Washington, D.C. By following his blindered lead, California Republicans blundered badly. Let's hope congressional Republicans have a little more sense.
For the good of us all, the federal deficit must be controlled. To do this, Democrats will need to vote to rein in spending on health care and social programs. Republicans will need to vote for higher taxes.
Wavering Republicans have disavowed the pledge, no doubt concerned that some voters are annoyed that they've pledged fealty not to the Constitution but to a creation of an odd Beltway creature, who uses terms like "poopy head" in public.
Norquist acknowledges that some Republicans are having "impure thoughts." But he hastens to add that so far, none has actually cast a vote for a tax hike. The reason, he says, is that they like being in Congress, an implied threat that he would fund an election challenge against them from the right.
Norquist's political arm, Americans for Tax Reform, spent $15.8 million on this year's election, all of it to elect his brand of Republicans. That spending is up from $4.1 million in the 2010 election, an indication that his benefactors, whoever they are, are pleased with him.
The question for Congress is not unlike one California lawmakers faced last year. Gov. Jerry Brown spent the first months of his tenure trying to find Republicans who were willing to vote to let voters vote on an extension of taxes that were in place at the time.
Norquist came to the Capitol to make sure Republicans understood that they would be violating the pledge by giving voters a choice.
Sen. Tony Strickland, R-Moorpark, became Norquist's main stooge, organizing the "taxpayers caucus," Republican legislators who rejected Brown's overtures. They won that battle. But the victory was short-lived. Republicans could have gained concessions, including reductions in regulations and government pension costs. Now, they have no clout, as Democrats hold two-thirds majorities in both houses.
The original series of taxes was much fairer than what voters approved in the form of Proposition 30, which raises income taxes on high earners by $5 billion a year, and sales taxes by $1 billion a year. Norquist, by the way, denounces Proposition 30, which came about in part because of his rigid stand.
Strickland's demagoguery did him no good. He lost his run for Congress to Julia Brownley, D-Santa Monica. Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform didn't spend a dime to help Strickland.
Perhaps congressional Republicans will be smarter than Strickland's taxpayer caucus. Perhaps they will vote for taxes and extract concessions, as they should. Or maybe they will careen off the cliff, with no-tax Norquist at the wheel.