House Speaker John Boehner appeared flummoxed when he was asked about anti-tax activist Grover Norquist's influence on his party, waiting five seconds before answering, "It's not often I'm asked about some random person." For Boehner, Norquist is the random weird girl no one knows standing in the corner at the party, except this party has been going on for 20 years. He should have followed up, "Wait, are you talking about that dude who's been in literally hundreds of articles about me since the 1990s?"
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been attacking Republicans as being "terrified" of violating Norquist's pledge, which has been signed by 275 of 288 Republicans in Congress. "They're in a thrall, my Republican colleagues, they’re in submission to a man whose singular focus is keeping taxes low for the very, very, very wealthy no matter what the effect on the nation," Reid said Wednesday, as The Hill's Alexander Bolton reports. The Democrat quoted former Sen. Alan Simpson, a Republican, saying "The only thing [Norquist] can do is try to defeat you for reelection, and if that means more to you than your country, you really shouldn’t be in Congress." A day earlier, Reid said Norquist was the real leader of the Republican Party. Boehner's response to this appears to be, "Who?"
Thursday, when NBC News' Luke Russert asked Boehner if Norquist makes a positive impact on the party, Boehner thought it over for five seconds, The Washington Post's Felicia Sonmez reports, before responding, "Our focus here is on jobs. We're doing everything I can to get our economy going, to get people back to work. It's not often I'm asked about some random person." Russert asked if Norquist was really just a random person to Republicans. "Listen, our focus is on creating jobs, not talking about somebody's personality," Boehner said. Russert asked, What about what Norquist stands for? "What he stands for?" Boehner asked.
Boehner must have been wondering who Norquist is for a long time. A Nexis search shows there have been 1,287 articles that have mentioned both of their names. He must have missed the December 1993 edition of the American Spectator, when Norquist praised him as "the aggressive young chairman of the Conservative Opportunity Society." Boehner must have wondered who this Norquist person was in 1994, when Norquist hailed Boehner's signing of the anti-tax pledge put out by Norquist's organization, Americans for Tax Reform. Boehner must not have noticed the January 1995 edition of the Spectator, either, in which Norquist praised him again for trying to cut back on earmarks as a way to "weaken liberal Democrats' survival stratagems in moderate and conservative districts." Boehner must have asked himself, "Who is that guy?" when he invited Norquist and a handful of other lobbyists to then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich's office in January 1995, where together they strategized how to rally support for Republicans' "Contract with America." He must have wondered who this rando Grover was saying all these nice things about how he was bringing change to the Republican party when he was picked as House minority leader in 2006. He must have wondered who that weirdo was lurking behind him in the photo above, taken in 2008 at an event hosted by Norquist's group, Americans for Tax Reform. Boehner must wonder how his face ended up tagged on the group's Facebook page.
Nevertheless, Slate's Dave Weigel points out that Boehner would be blocking Democrats' attempt to raise taxes even if Norquist wasn't around. "That's the thing: Norquist aside, this is what Republicans believe."