Jonathan Alter: Grover Norquist’s Anti-Tax Pledge ‘Helped to Wreck’ the U.S.

Wednesday night on The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell, MSNBC political analyst Jonathan Alter claimed that Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge “has helped to wreck the United States." The discussion centered around New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s decision to sign the pledge, and Jeb Bush’s refusal to do so. 

The Newsweek veteran declared the pledge was “about the worst kind of public policy for the reasons you just heard...[i]t’s terribly destructive.” James Traub of Foreign Policy had suggested earlier that the pledge puts politicians in a box and does not allow them to respond effectively to political situations: “And you have to take this anti-reality pledge that says no thing can happen that will cause me to change my mind. That's a foolish thing to say but if you don't say it you are cooked.”

The National Journal's Lauren Fox agreed with Traub’s point, saying it is impossible to know what one might face as president: 

I think that's one of the important things that we are hearing here is that you can not predict the future when you are the president of the United States. Sometimes the country goes in to a recession. Sometimes things happen. Sometimes the make up of Congress changes and to get pieces of legislation through you end up signing bills that sometimes include pieces that you do not like. 

Alter hoped that Donald Trump could push the Republican Party in the direction of ignoring the anti-tax pledge. The Daily Beast columnist noted:

I pray that Donald Trump is not such a wimp that he changes his mind and signs the pledge. And if he holds out against it and does fine anyway, and Chris Christie goes by the wayside, which he will, then maybe the Republican Party can start to move into a post-pledge environment. 

Earlier in the segment, Lawrence O’Donnell hinted that Jeb Bush may be forced to cave to the pledge like his brother did: “George W. Bush in 1999 refused to sign the pledge. Absolutely refused. And then ended up writing a letter to Grover Norquist using exactly the words of the pledge, signing the letter. Grover Norquist accepted that as a signed pledge.” 

The relevant portion of the transcript is below. 

MSNBC
The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell
August 13, 2015

LAWRENCE O’DONNELL: Lauren Fox, how long can Jeb Bush hold out and not just give up and sign the pledge like his brother George did? 

LAUREN FOX: Well, I think that this is sort of one of those fundamental conservative policy points. And I think it’s gonna be really hard for Jeb Bush as he moves forward and as gets more and more pressure from the right. Remember, he's more of a moderate in the race than many others. It’s gonna be harder and harder for him not to just sign this pledge. He has, you know, used this line over and over again, I cut $19 billion in taxes over my time as governor of Florida and I plan to continue to do that if I'm the president. But I think he’s gonna continue to hear from a lot of the other governors and other senators running against him that that is just not a sustainable position. 

O’DONNELL: James Traub, we have seen a version of this movie before. George W. Bush in 1999 refused to sign the pledge. Absolutely refused. And then ended up writing a letter to Grover Norquist using exactly the words of the pledge, signing the letter. Grover Norquist accepted that as a signed pledge. 

JAMES TRAUB: You know, I love the idea – because Jonathan said earlier that it may be that Donald Trump has kind of shattered this pledge. 

O’DONNELL: Trump is the only other one who has not signed. 

TRAUB: So I love that idea. But the fact that Chris Christie says, you know, how can you not sign the pledge? Obviously Jeb Bush is trying to take an actually principled stand. He may know, for example, that someone like Sam Brownback, the governor of Kansas, a super anti-tax guy, has been forced to raise taxes because things happen. And you have to take this anti-reality pledge that says no thing can happen that will cause me to change my mind. That's a foolish thing to say but if you don't say it you are cooked. 

FOX: Well I think that's one of the important – I think that's one of the important things that we are hearing here is that you can not predict the future when you are the president of the United States. Sometimes the country goes in to a recession. Sometimes things happen. Sometimes the make up of Congress changes and to get pieces of legislation through you end up signing bills that sometimes include pieces that you do not like. And I think that that is sort of where he is coming from here. He doesn't know what the future holds and he's trying to keep a principled position on that. 

[...]

JONATHAN ALTER: I put him in our TV show, Alpha House for different two seasons. I get along with him just fine, personally. But the pledge has helped to wreck the United States. It is about the worst kind of public policy that you can imagine for the reasons we have just heard. So I actually respect Jeb Bush for taking a position against it, especially since Bob Dole's refusal to sign the pledge in New Hampshire in 1988 is how Jeb’s father was elected president of the United States. He won that primary after having lost in Iowa and went on to be the next president. So this is in the core of the Republican Party. It's terribly destructive. And I pray that Donald Trump is not such a wimp that he changes his mind and signs the pledge. And if he holds out against it and does fine anyway, and Chris Christie goes by the wayside, which he will, then maybe the Republican Party can start to move into a post-pledge environment. 

NBDaily Taxes Jonathan Alter Lauren Fox James Traub Grover Norquist

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