Breakfast with Grover Norquist: June 14, 2007

The first Maria Leavey Breakfast for 2007 was held on Thursday, June 14th and featured conservative activist Grover Norquist. The guests included Michael Scherer and Walter Shapiro from Salon.com, Brian Beutler from the Media Consortium, Ellen Ratner from Talk Radio News Service, Joe Sudbay from AmericaBLOG.com, Ari Berman from The Nation, journalist Robert Dreyfuss, David Grossman from PoliticsTV.com and Jessica Clark from In These Times. A full transcript follows:

GROVER NORQUIST, AMERICANS FOR TAX REFORM: This last week I read over the transcript from the breakfast that Maria put together. I sat down and I said, ‘the center-right does not have one of these’, and within two months we set one up. So, actually we meet monthly here, the American Spectator runs it and I do some writing for the American Spectator and so we help to coordinate it and we have sat down with and invited each one of the presidential candidates and other folks, so we are latently borrowing from your success and I was very impressed with the breakfast that you put together and the guest that you’ve been able to put together to combine the drawing power and authority of each of the columnists and bloggers and writers to get folks to come.

We spoke before the 2006 election and I think there are several interesting things. One is the 2006 election and then looking forward to 2008 and then policy questions around the politics of it. My take on 2006 is that you had some guys who shot themselves in the foot and/or left before they could be replaced, Ney, Delay, the Foley thing, last minute. There are about seven folks seats, that if the Republicans put up a competent Republican they should be able to get the seat back, Foley’s seat. None of these are gimmies because people can always defend themselves, but then after the seven guys who lost with sexual, personal, or financial scandals, the rest strikes me as Iraq.

I mean, as I look around, as I talk to folks, if you look at what happened in New Hampshire, those two seats were all about Iraq and its interesting, on the right when you talk to different people, everybody sort of wants to point the finger and the White House explains it was the House and Senate and the House and Senate explains it was the White House, but I tend to see the sense that the occupation of Iraq was unending, ongoing, unchanging and if there was a plan, it wasn’t articulated, and that was disconcerting.

You look at the numbers, the R vote didn’t drop, the Republican turn out didn’t drop, the Independents switched and that cost the R’s the House and the Senate.

For my purposes, where my job to help work with the broad center-right coalition and keep everybody together, it doesn’t change very much. If we had candidates who were campaigning for tax cuts and were defeated by people who said, ‘no, that’s a bad idea, we must raise taxes,’ or if our candidates were out protecting the second amendment and people said, ‘no, the time has passed for that.’ In ’74 you had liberal Democrats running as liberal Democrats, beating conservative Republicans, or at least what passed for conservative Republicans before Reagan. In ’94 you had conservative Republicans running against liberal Democrats who had ideological fights. I don’t see that in 2006 and as I am working with candidates in the broader coalition, the constellation of issues that the Center Right developed and organized during Reagan’s lifetime, I think continue to be majoritarian positions and successful ones, absent an exogenous shock, which is what Iraq is.

I said after the ’04 election, that if Iraq was in the rearview mirror in ’06 and not in the windshield, the Republicans would be fine. I don’t know if that’s true, but the counterpart of that or the converse of that is true, it was in the windshield, it wasn’t in the rearview mirror. Looking ahead to 2008, before getting into more specifics on candidates and so on, but if the Republican candidate, with or without George Bush, can articulate a position on Iraq a sentence which includes the word, ‘leaving’ in the sentence, I think the Republicans have a shot at maintaining the Presidency.

The model for this is Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon ran, and successfully in ’68, as the candidate who had a secret plan. It’s amazing that the President could get away with this, I’m not sure that somebody today could have a secret plan to do something. You could have no plan, a bad plan, but I’m not sure you could have a secret plan. He had a secret plans to end the war and it turned out that the secret plan was Vietnamization. So, he spent four years leaving Vietnam and he ran in ’72 as the guy who was leaving and McGovern decided he wanted to surrender, so leaving beat surrendering and Nixon didn’t leave McGovern room other than to stake out a ‘must leave now.’ Well, we’re leaving, what is it you want to do?

However, in 2004, 2006, 2006 being more of a problem, the Bush administration appeared to be saying, ‘Nothing changes.’ There was a quote from the president, ‘If it was me and my wife and the dog all alone, we would change nothing.’ Which is an insertion that we are incapable of learning on the subject and will not, refuse to, be convinced by anybody on anything. That’s the way it came across in the presentation. Then, all the D’s had to do was stand to the side and sort of look and point and go, ‘I don’t know that this is really working out very well.’ They didn’t have to stake out a radical position, they didn’t have to argue, they just have to go, ‘ya know, I’m not sure,’ and that swung independent votes because there were a great number of people going, ‘yeah, I don’t get it either,’ and, which was enough to tip the House.

If the presidential, Republican presidential candidates and perhaps the President, himself, at this point were to say, ‘Here’s our plan, we’re going to surge and leave, we’re going to hand things over to the Iraqis and leave,’ but the conversation, the sentence has to have the word leaving in it. Doesn’t mean you have to leave tomorrow, doesn’t mean you have to surrender, doesn’t mean you have to cut and run, but the articulation of the policy needs to be clear to the American people that we’re not staying there indefinitely and that there is a ‘doing something’ and ‘leaving’. Which, I think, that’s sort of the elephant in the room. If the Republicans can get that one right then they’re competitive in 2008 and then we get to all the other issues.

Let me just briefly say, for those of you who are not familiar with Americans for Tax Reform, we were put together in ’85 at the request of President Reagan to become the outside group that supported what became the ‘86 tax bill. In the middle of the ’86 Tax Reform Act there was a back bench revolt from conservatives ‘cause they said, ‘Oh, wait a minute, if you were to reduce rates and broaden the base, meaning eliminate deductions and credits, what about the rates just come back up and then people don’t even have the protection of the deductions and credits, this could be problematic.’ And so, I created the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, sent it out to a whole bunch of people saying, ‘Do you think I’ve got this worded correctly? Do you think this would work?’ I got absolutely no feedback, so I went ahead and just did it as I wrote it on the back of a piece of paper and the pledge says that ‘I promise not to raise rates and I promise not to raise taxes in the future’. So, this would not stop any tax increase ever, but it would make it much more difficult to allow the rates to creep back up and that was the purpose of it, and it has done that.

We now have a hundred something and then we’ve taken it to the state legislative level. Right now there are 196 members of the House and 43 Senators - everybody has the list. I think our one Democratic Senator is Ben Nelson and we have four or five Democratic House members. The state legislative list, there are almost 1,200 state legislators in the country have taken the pledge and our job now for the next ten years, is we’ve got 90-95% of Republicans at the national level have signed the pledge, we’ve got about a third of the Republicans at the state legislative level, in the next ten years we’ll get that third up to 90% as well and then the ten years is to do the same thing at the local level. That’s the pledge.

The center-right coalition meetings that we organized, we started that in ’93 and the effort there was to bring all the parts of the center-right coalition together so that they could know what everybody else was doing and the meetings themselves flowed from my understanding of why our coalition holds together, why the bubble bee flies even though everybody is always telling me that it can’t.

This is the room we have the DC meeting in. There are 117 chairs, we’ll have a 120 to 150 people in the room each Wednesday and we set it up consciously that everybody’s in the room because on the issue that moves their vote, what they want from the government is to be left alone. Does not mean they’re all libertarians or anarchists, it means on one issue, the issue that moves their vote, they want to be left alone. Gun owners leave me alone on guns, taxpayers leave me alone on taxes, property owners leave me alone on property. And we get into this on the Republican side on the presidential level, but the various communities of faith, the religious right, if you want to know what moves their votes, not their leaderships’ speeches or lists of twenty non-negotiable demands, but the votes, it is the desire for parent’s rights. It’s is a parent’s rights movement. They want to be left alone with their kids and to raise their faith and to practice their faith.

My argument is to why and how you can see that is when it got started. It did not get started after ‘62/’63 prayer in school and it did not get organized after Roe v. Wade. It got organized in ’78 with the belief that the FCC was going to go after Christian radio stations and that the IRS was going to go after Christian private schools, Christian schools. It was set up in self-defense in reaction to those things and it saw itself that way. Ralph Reed made the comment, ‘We started winning when we understood that we were a minority’ and, I would argue that the religious right gets into trouble whenever it forgets that it is an important part of… the religious right: evangelical Protestants, conservative Catholics, that it’s an important part of the political fabric, but it is, in fact, a minority faction in the country that can and should be accommodated. Their fears and concerns of being picked on by other people and by the state are legitimate and should be addressed.

Every once in a while you see some leaders act - the Moral Majority, which was an inaptly named political structure because, sure if you ask certain questions you can get a majority opinion and majority people were not voting on those issues and therefore you can’t argue. If I stand up and say X, all the troops follow, it just isn’t true. And so, around the table there’s less friction then you can get if you listen to some of the leadership of various groups who announce, because people like to overstate the number of troops behind them and the number of votes they bring in and the intensity of their troops. Sometimes people overstate that. I worked very hard at trying not to do that because I want to be able to talk to a Congressman or Senator or somebody in the press and say, ‘I think this is an important issue,’ and not have been there five times before explaining that if you don’t vote for X all of the taxpayers in America will all stay home for the next election and won’t love you anymore. You do that once or twice and then people stop listening to you, because you’ve overstated what your bringing to the table. So, much better to understate.

Around the center-right coalition, the guys want to be left along with their guns, their businesses, their money, their taxes, their kids, their faith, the home-schoolers, the property rights movement and therefore on primary vote moving issues around this table no one is in conflict. Many disagreements on secondary issues, on tertiary issues, but not on primary vote moving issues. So, that’s the structure of the modern conservative movement, it’s why it holds together, not everybody in the movement understands that. We get guys who say that ‘Everybody votes on X’.

We talked last time that I met with you on whether or not the no gay marriage initiative, defensive marriage measures on the state ballots moved votes and we went out and polled and did a study of that because when I talked to Republican leaders and pollsters, they’d say, “No, we don’t see it, but I’ve never seen it put together.” This goes through those states that had traditional marriage constitutional amendments on the ballot in ’04 and when Bush jumped his numbers three percent. He got 48 percent of the vote in 2000. You guys may have noticed that was not the majority and then in 2004 he got 51 percent of the votes, so it went up three percent across the board.

In the states where traditional marriage was on the ballot, in only three states did he increase by more than three percent. So, if you want to argue everything was driven by that, it cost you votes. And, specifically in Ohio which was the most important one in play where Bush’s vote went up one point, which is not to say that the issue isn’t important to people or that people didn’t go out and vote for traditional marriage, they did, all passed, except Oregon?

ELLEN RATNER, TALK RADIO NEWS SERVICE: Arizona.

NORQUIST: Arizona? OK. But there’s a difference between an issue that people will tell you they are for or even vote for as an initiative and then how they attach it to candidates. I’m not sure you can find, although I’ve been asking people for, show me the guy who lost the election because he or she was open to the idea of gay marriage. I’m not sure I have seen those or numbers on them. On the other hand, if you were to say to me ‘talk to me about taxes or guns or a number of other issues’, I could say, well, let’s go back to the last twenty years of elections and we’ll show you they guys who’ve lost because of those issues. Obviously, talking about gay marriage, a new issue, even immigration, a relatively new issue, it’s not always obvious.

There’s a great line in the movie where they say, ‘What do you think he has?’ and he says ‘I don’t know we’ll know after the autopsy.’ What moves votes? Well, we’ll know after the autopsy - the election. You win or lose the election, oh yea, that was a powerful issue, we discover now. But I didn’t see it and we put that chart together because of that conversation we had last time out. That said, I think the structure of the two parties, the two coalitions remain roughly the same. I didn’t see any shift in terms of some group permanently coming over one-way or another. The closest thing to that, for conservatives and Republicans to be concerned about, was the drop in the Hispanic vote, which I think stemmed from the higher rhetoric on the immigration issue and there was not, on the flip side of that, some collection of people who were spiking their votes because there were restrictionist on immigration.

I do not believe that being a restrictionist on immigration, it’s… I don’t think its good policy, but I also don’t think its good politics and I politely challenged the people on, who argue that it is, to show me the for instance, show me the election your talking about, show me the get out the vote effort that’s there that wasn’t there before. And the highest profile restrictionists in Arizona lost. You take a look at all the Governors, who are on border states, from California down to Florida, they’re all not restrictionist whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, they were all immigration sympathetic. So, those are thoughts. Questions, arguments?

RATNER: Well, I guess I'll start out. Last week in New Hampshire Frank Luntz said that Ohio, at this point in time, was not winnable for the Republicans. Nancy Pelosi's numbers have gone down and I guess, assuming and the other thing that we know is that Hillary Clinton's internal polls show that she can … the only person she can't win against at this point is Giuliani unless Bloomberg somehow gets into the race which he won't do if Giuliani is in the race. What's your review of Ohio in the presidential and those statistics?

NORQUIST: I think Republicans should be concerned about Ohio and Colorado. Those are two states where Republican governors have done a great deal to damage the Republican brand, specifically on taxes, but on taxes and spending. In Ohio you had Robert Taft who is…

I am hoping to enlist the support of progressives for my new constitutional amendment, which, we will announce today, we were planning on doing it later. This is not a joke, in all seriousness, I want a constitutional amendment that forbids anybody from being followed in an elected or appointed position by anybody who is an immediate family member, husband, wife, child, brother, sister. This would not stop Hillary Clinton from running for President eight years in between, it wouldn’t have stopped George Bush, but what it would stop is the effort by Congressmen to make these things hereditary Parages and to have their children run for these offices. We do guarantee, in the Constitution, every state government, a Republican form, small-R Republican of government.

RATNER: A little follow-up to that question which relates to your question, which is if Hillary Clinton wins there will be… this country will be controlled by two families for twenty-four years.

NORQUIST: Yea, well, you can’t stop the in again, on again, John Quincy Adams showing up again later but I do think that if you do have a constitutional amendment that says, not husband to wife, not father to son, wife to son kind of thing.

WALTER SHAPIRO, SALON.COM: How about brother? I mean the Jeb Bush presidency question?

NORQUIST: Yea, well, look. We’ve already paid the highest cost, apart from human life in the Iraq war, and that was the Jeb Bush Presidency and the…

ARI BERMAN, THE NATION: That was your guy last time.

NORQUIST: He was and would be. I mean if I had to pick who's the best governor, who is the guy if you could appoint him president in the consolation, it would be Jeb Bush, still is. Great job and they tried to start a rumor he was adopted but it didn’t work. But, in all seriousness, I think a constitutional amendment, this is not poking fun, but I do think almost both parties could go ‘We’re in,’ and each one would be saying ‘This would stop Bush’ ‘No, this would stop Clinton’ ‘OK, fine we’ll take it.’

We got the limit on presidents serving more than eight years or being elected more than twice with a whole bunch of Republicans going, ‘Ah, this is payback for FDR.’ OK, fine, we'll take that. Of course, the next guy who could have run three times would have been Eisenhower and Reagan, but it was a bipartisan effort to say, yes, lets leave it at eight years."

SHAPIRO: I assume in Republican circles this would be known as the Debbie Dingell Amendment.

NORQUIST: You know, I am in favor of everybody naming it what they want to. I am in favor of having it be the No Aristocracy Amendment. I think aristocracy is the ultimate enemy of democracy. We had a whole war against these characters. So, I think that’s important. Now, back to Mrs. Clinton and Ohio. I think Ohio and Colorado are the two states that I worry about because of self-inflicted damage by the Republican governors in those states. The Republican Party succeeds with the pledge and other efforts, it says, we're the party that won’t ever raise your taxes. Then, there are other things that we can talk, but you walk into the voting booth dead drunk you vote for the guy with the R after his name; you just know that he or she won’t raise your taxes. That’s enough for the R's to maintain control politically.

But, if you lose that because you have some Republicans, and in the case of Ohio and Colorado, the governors, the leader of the Republican Party cheerleading for tax increases, you damage the brand. This is the Coca-Cola wants you to buy Coke, they put a lot of quality control in, you take a Coke bottle, you don’t have to read it, you don’t have to ask your friends about it, you don’t have to shake it or taste it, you take it and you put it in the thing, you take it home. You get home, you open it up, you get half way through it and you see the rat head in what's left of your Coke bottle. You don’t say to yourself, ‘I'm thinking I won’t finish this particular bottle.’ You wonder whether you'll ever buy Coke again and you tell your friends about it, it damages Coke's brand and you go on local TV and show them the cool rat head. Republican elected officials who vote for tax increases are rat heads in the Coke bottle. They damage the brand and in Colorado and in Ohio we have a very bad case of that. So, those are the two concerned states that I would have.

I think for Frank Luntz to say the R’s can’t win Ohio is the way to get quoted. If he had said ‘Oh, it would be difficult’ that doesn’t get him the little quote bar, but I believe the direction of his assertion, it is difficult for the R's, Ohio is the state to watch, it is the problem state, is correct. The other challenge is that the D's now have the governorship, the attorney general and secretary of state. So, all of the protections against vote stuff, problematic vote front will move the other way, Colorado, same situation. So, I would focus on those two states at the presidential level in terms of possibly switching. The R's are looking to Wisconsin and Minnesota.

RATNER: Grover has to leave at 10 so we’re going to move kinda fast here.

NORQUIST: OK

DAVID GROSSMAN, POLITICSTV.COM: When you joined us last year you said, and I’m going to quote you, ‘My concern is that is Tom Tancredo will become the face of the modern Republican Party." I mean he's got a campaign, its about as good as Dennis Kucinich is looking right about now, no offense Ellen. He’s polling at nothing.

The issue seems to be, especially with a lot of right of center bloggers, picking up a lot of traction, how do you see this getting resolved in the next year or two or five years. How do you sort of see this playing out beyond just 2008?

NORQUIST: The immigration issue is very interesting. When people who believe themselves to be right of center tell me that we should all be restrictionists on immigration and what a powerful issue it is, I say, ‘Really? How is Tom Tancredo doing?’ We've testing this issue; this is not like we've never had this. Pat Buchanan ran on this in 2000 and got less than one percent of the vote. Tom Tancredo is there now. Something like half of Republicans are answering ‘don’t know’ when you ask them who they're for for president. They park their position in ‘don’t know’ or ‘haven’t decided’ or (Fred) Thompson or (Newt) Gingrich. If there was this serious desire to, on the immigration restrictionist issue, why would those people not park their positions with Tancredo? I mean, I'm for Tancredo, meaning that I haven’t decided but I want to send a message to people. That doesn’t even show up as a protest vote.

I was just in Colorado a couple of days ago and was talking to political people there. Tom Tancredo is a Congressman, not a Senator for two reasons. There have been two Senate seats that opened up, each time he's looked at it, his polling data statewide is so poor, he's not electable statewide. In a square state out west, a red state, this guy cannot get elected statewide, his own polling tells him and the only thing the people of Colorado know about him is his position, his restrictionist position on immigration. So the idea that this is a powerful, positive issue for restictionists strikes me as unproved, unlikely, and all of the evidence that…

I, first of all, as I tell them and you, I am not a restrictionist, I think we should have two million people come to this country every year. I think that the problem we've had with immigration is we've had a 55 mile an hour speed limit for a long time and when we had a 55 mile an hour speed limit in this country there was a great deal of illegal driving going on and no conservative that I ever remember ever said, ‘step one is arrest all the illegal drivers and then and only then will we consider a 65 mile an hour or 75 mile an hour speed limit’. First enforcement and then a rational position, that didn’t happen. Our position was, ‘this is a stupid law, change it,’ and all of the sudden you had much less illegal driving as a result. The Hells Angels had that wonderful, I think it was in LA, ‘55 MPH speed limit: It’s not a good idea, it’s just the law.’ So, seems to me that the challenge we have is that we have a legal limit of immigration that’s too low.

As a result, people have said, well thank you very much, I’ll just wait ‘till the border guard goes home and night and came here to work. I don’t believe you can get the American people worked up at people who wake up at five o'clock in the morning and stand by the road looking for work. I mean I just don’t believe it. ‘These people they're a threat to the republic, they’re waking up at five o'clock in the morning and going to work.’ I don’t see it. On the other hand, I don’t want to see it because I think that they're an asset but the argument that it’s a political winner to be a restrictionist, I would, which is a separate issue, from whether you think restrictionist is a good idea, I think it’s a bad idea but I also don’t think restictionism is good politics and I'm trying to make that case on the Senate right now.

BERMAN: When you get your 150 people in this room, do they want to run against Hillary or do they fear Hillary? Or both?

NORQUIST: Yea, there is actually very self-conscious sense of, we don’t get to advise the other team because we've spent 20 years making fun of the left advising us to pick Reagan and so there's this, you actually hear people go, ‘I’d really like to run against Hillary’ Well, remember the left said that about Reagan. And, so there is a humility there that I think is important. I would prefer to run against Hillary and I think most people on the right would.

Hillary is easier to identify as a left of center personality. This is particularly true because of the way this election has come about. Hillary was over on the left with her hard left friends and she said, ‘Guys, for the next year I'm going to go over and have my picture taken with the troops and vote for surges and bake cookies and be pleasant, so for a whole year I'm gonna not look like what the Republicans want to caricature me as and then when I win the nomination and then I run, the Republicans will go, ‘She is a crazy left winger.’ What are you talking about, that’s not who she is for the last year, and anything before the last year is dragging up the past and unfairly picking on me because of my husband. That was the plan.

So, she comes over here with what I believe was the longest leash in American politics that the left would go, ‘We know, we know. Tell them anything you want, go out and talk to them, you can do it.’ But, they left this opening up and the MoveOn.org people said ‘what are you doing being a right wing crazy person over there?’ So, Obama, I thought the plan was and I was told by guys on your team that Gore was supposed to come in and stand on liberal hill and stop her, but Obama comes up and he's standing on liberal hill and Edwards comes up and he stands on liberal hill and Hillary's over here getting her picture taken with the troops. Now she's got two guys, but Obama bigger than Edwards, but Edwards is not insignificant, he's got resources, he can stay in as long as he wants. He’s not like some of our guys on the right who don’t really have any money and they can't play, if they don’t win the first primary they don’t get to play, these two guys can play.

So, Hillary has to spend this year and the primaries coming back, picking up a baseball bat and going, ‘I am too the most left wing person in this room,’ boom, boom, boom, boom. And, then you have to be mean spirited because you can’t crush people in a pleasant way, so she's got to beat up on the black guy, she's got to beat up on the southerner and drenched in blood she stands on the top of liberal hill going, ‘Oh, cameras. Hi! I am the lady who bakes cookies!’ But my point is that she now has to come back and reassert her left wing credentials not to the serious backers who, ‘we know that your impulses are very progressive’, but to the general public and to the media which is exactly what we're trying not to do. So, that’s the challenge that I think she's been put in which makes her someone that I'm more interested in running against.

I would be less interested, generically, in running against her had she successfully spent a year over being pleasant and cheerful and moderate and so and just sort of doing this, ‘tisk, tisk,’ you know, ‘I don’t know if that’s working’ kind of approach. Then she'd just be the alternative to the present mess. That’s why I think, increasingly people would be more comfortable running against her because of this perception that she has to reassert both her left wing credentials and she's got to have sharp elbows dealing with the two guys that are there and let’s says she comes and knocks them out really quickly, boom, boom, then Gore could come in. He's a larger and more formidable guy to stand on the hill and tell her, ‘you can’t push me off.’ That’s my sense and I think that that's generally shared but the right is being very wise in not going, ‘Oh, she’d be easy to beat.’ Even having beat up these other guys, even having spent the next year on liberal hill, she will be a very serious candidate and could win.

SHAPIRO: Grover, just staying with the Hillary theme one beat more, what kind of a job do you think your Harvard friend Mark Penn is doing running Hillary's campaign? Or semi-running it?

NORQUIST: Well I had dinner with Mark Penn and his wife recently. He's a great guy, he's very bright. His tendency is to try and keep her from being photographed on liberal hill too often, which I think is a correct general election strategy. I mean, he's as smart as they get, so those people who think ‘Oh, we'll run against Hillary, crush her, it will be easy,’ not when she's smart enough to hire guys like Mark Penn.

MICHAEL SCHERER, SALON.COM: I have a question, but I want to go back to the immigration thing. I agree with you, Tancredo’s sort of a red herring, but it also seems clear to me that the biggest failure of the center right coalition that you have been maintaining for the last few years has been immigration because you do have the brand being battered regularly on the Hill, on talk radio, places like that. Where was the failure? How could this have been done differently to have solved it earlier? Then, I am going to try to do a quick follow-up.

NORQUIST: This could have been, and the reason is so painful to watch is because they were going to do it right. I was in the White House, the week, ten days before September 11th and they were about to roll out a normalization of, then ten million undocumented workers here and we were going to, you know, get them a permit to stay and work and we were gonna work out a path to citizenship and we were going to increase H1B visas so that Bill Gates could hire all the smart people in India.

I mean, Lou Dobbs spends Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday whining about H1B visas and bringing immigrants in and then Thursday, Friday, Saturday, he whines about outsourcing to those people that he didn’t let in on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I'm in favor of trading Lou Dobbs for one of these guys who wants to come to work at five o'clock in the morning and some sort of balance of payments, you know, we send out restrictionists and take immigrants. I haven’t quite worked that our yet or got Lou Dobbs to agree to go, but that was the time and even when September 11th happened, then remember they came back in November, and Bush said, ‘OK we're gonna go’ and the democrats announced that the, oh, who was the Speaker, the D head of the House from Missouri back then? Gephardt?

Gephardt I think went to Mexico City to meet with, to say, ‘us too.’ So, we had bipartisan ‘let's do it,’ and that was the time when you could have said, ‘part of security is knowing where everybody is and who's in the country and we had that problem with the snipers in Maryland where the cops in Maryland had to go around and say, ‘guys if you know anything about the two snipers and you come and talk to the police you know what we’re not going to do is ask any stupid questions about where you were born and what your papers look like. We just want to talk to you about the snipers.’ And they had to do that, because they feared, I think understandably, that people were not going to come talk to the cops. The cops might say, ‘and where are you from and where are your papers?’ So, that’s exactly what we should have done then. It could, and would correctly, have been sold as a security measure.

It would have gone through, we would have lost thirty votes in the House and they didn’t want to divide... My understanding is that they didn’t do it because there were thirty R votes in the house that they did not want to break with that early in the administration and have a divisive thing. So, now it’s not thirty, it’s ninety. The challenge got bigger and bigger and I believe that it was completely fixable then. It is my hope that we can pass something that normalizes the twelve million, which seems to be the big hump. Once you solve that and convince people that mass deportations are not going to happen, that’s not an option. Both you want to convince the people not to have that fear but you also want to convince the restrictionists who have this fantasy that this might happen, that it’s not going to happen.

SCHERER: Let me ask two quick questions and then I’ll pass the mic. One, why is Romney not a John Kerry on guns and can he win over the credibility of the NRA crowd and two, will ATR be running issue ads in New Hampshire and South Carolina like you did in 2000 in the Republican Primary?

NORQUIST: Guns and Romney. Romney's position on guns is flawless and, add to that, his go-to-guy on guns is Larry Craig. I'm on the board of the National Rifle Association, I know, as is Larry Craig, and so his advisor on this stuff is Larry Craig and if somebody says to me, ‘he turns to Larry Craig to double check on gun issues’ I'd go ‘OK, I don’t need to focus on that anymore. I went and worked with the governor back when the D's were planning on passing a restriction on 50 caliber rifles in Massachusetts and he committed to me that he would oppose any… I’m on the 50 caliber association, not the machine gun guys, just the single shot 50 caliber. Although if we set up one of the other associations I'd volunteer, no, its lots of fun and people keep wanting to restrict these things of beauty, but people don’t appreciate art in this country, that’s the problem. So, his position is fine.

Where he got awkward is trying to do this, ‘I'm with you, I'm a lifetime hunter’, meaning ‘I've hunted.’ And, he'd only hunted a few times and that looked odd. He was trying to ingratiate himself in a completely unnecessary… nobody cares.

Before I joined the board of directors of the National Rifle Association, I had never been hunting. I've barely been hunting since, I’m not interested in guns for hunting purposes. He seemed to think that the second amendment was … hunting. He didn’t need to do that. So, it’s awkward but on the other hand since the people who care about the second amendment only care about your position on it, they don’t care if you hunt or target shoot or collect or don’t have any guns. They just want to know where you are politically. He's fine politically, so that's not… It will be used by other people to go ‘Ah, you misrepresent yourself,’ but it wont hurt him with the gun people. It may be, another guy could toss it out. Maybe Reid’s comment. Somebody has more wives than …

SHAPIRO: Giuliani has more wives than Mitt Romney's gone hunting.

NORQUIST: Yea, that was pretty good. On ads, it depends, if everybody takes the pledge we'll stay out of it. If somebody is sitting out there without having taken the pledge, we may run ads.

SCHERER: If people have already taken the pledge in the past?

NORQUIST: It’s not enough because it only counts for the race that you’re in. Although I keep getting told by McCain's economics guys that they want him to take the pledge and he has publicly stated through a column with Novak that he would never raise taxes, but again, unless we see the signature that’s not a pledge.

BRIAN BEUTLER, MEDIA CONSORTIUM: Whether it’s the 150 people in the room or just conservative voters out there, how much popularity or unpopularity does the war have and for those who don’t like it, how far are they willing to let their desire for tax decreases go in voting for Republicans in '08?

NORQUIST: This is a very interesting one because when you talk to people there is a great unease and there are a whole bunch of people. I'm not the foreign policy guy, I do taxes, I do domestic policy and there are a whole bunch of people who say, ‘I'm this’ but they’re uneasy about it.

In 2004, I think some people in the Bush administration and their supporters misunderstood the 2004 election. They said, people who like the war voted for Bush. Ah, he's Churchill, people are voting for the wartime president. I believe it works the other way around. I believe that people who wanted to like Bush were cutting him slack on the war and there was, people go, ‘Well, I don’t know whether there were weapons of mass destruction, he says they are, I like him, I trust him, therefore, OK.’ And, then as the war went on and it became more expensive and it didn’t quite go as suggested it would, people are going, ‘Well he says its…’

So I think support for the war tracks support for Bush, not the other way around. If Bush were to come into tomorrow and say, ‘Guys, here's the plan, we are going to be gone in a year’, even if he gave a date, ‘we’re gonna be gone in a year because we are going to do X, Y and Z’ or ‘we're leaving’ or ‘we’re gonna leave some of the city.’ Or some different approach, if he started, if he announced tomorrow, we are going to leave, there would be no crack up in the Republican Party or the conservative base. There might be guys going, ‘oh really, I thought we were… OK.’ People would follow the President out as they followed him in because, the guys on the right, right of center activists, would follow the President out of Iraq as they followed him in because they trust him.

Contrast that with an issue like taxes, if the President or his emissary were to come in this room and say, not, ‘guys who were going to be out of Iraq in a year’ but ‘guys, the President has decided that is really necessary to raise taxes,’ people would leave the room. People would say, ‘that’s it.’ If he announced, ‘you know what, I think we are going to start stealing peoples guns,’ people would go, ‘yhat’s it, that’s a deal breaker.’ How he handles Iraq is not a deal breaker with the modern center right Republican Party, so he has tremendous flexibility to move on that, which is why I guess I was surprised between 2004/2006, you didn’t see more flexibility, that when the Baker commission came out, you didn’t see them say, ‘oh, this is a good idea’ and start to move in that direction.

BEUTLER: Why have people not noticed this, there’s really no ’08 candidates…

NORQUIST: Because until the President signals he's changing, the other candidates fear that if they separate themselves from Bush on this, that it will be problematic. I don’t know that it is but the only person who has kind of tested it has been Hagel, but Hagel’s challenge is this: the only thing you know about him is his position on the war. Now I think he's right as rain on all issues but he's not known on everything else and that’s a little bit Ron Paul's challenge. The question is: what if a Thompson or a Gingrich or Giuliani, if they went ten degrees the other way, how would that play? We don’t know.

ROBERT DREYFUSS: Well I’m going to follow up on Iraq. Leave the presidential candidates out of it for a second. Warner in the Senate created the Baker-Hamilton Commission basically through Wolf to try to give Bush an exit and they tried to kind of shove him through it and he didn’t go, he just held onto the door jams and then he did the surge. So, Warner I hear is pretty upset about that and there's a lot of other people on the hill who are upset who have to face the voters regardless of what happens in Ohio. They don’t care if they're in Virginia or Tennessee or somewhere else.

So, lets assume that the president is bullheaded on Iraq and he's gonna try to get through January, you know, sticking to his guns. When does the Republican Party on the Hill crack on this and what are you hearing about the mood there among the House and Senate Republicans about how long they can stick with the President if, you know the President, let’s say come September says, ‘we'll I've heard enough from Petraeus, things are going well and we are going to stay through the spring and then I'll consider in April what’s going to happen.’ When do they crack?

NORQUIST: Like Bush, ‘I can’t give you a time table there is a date’, there is a point which if that happened, I think you correctly portraying the concern among Republicans in the House and Senate, not talking heads, not radio talk show hosts, not think tank guys, but guys who actually have to face reelection. They are communicating with the White House exactly this concern, ‘why don’t we’, sort of along the lines of Warner. It’s not the backbenchers, it’s not what we have that passes for liberal Republicans these days: it’s the guys with gray hair. It’s the people who focus on foreign policy who are more emphatic on the policy and then you have the guys who would really like to strengthen in the House and not weaken in the Senate: the candidates. They will begin to go their own way, I'd be guessing on a date, but I think it’s got to start happening this fall. I think the deadline this fall is not just for the surge to show it worked but for Bush to demonstrate flexibility. If he is ten percent flexible then other people could be a little more flexible.

Our candidate will be Sarkozy, whoever he is. Sarkozy ran in the wake of the very unpopular, change nothing, mostly on the domestic economy, but change-nothing static Chirac. Sarkozy was able to run, ‘I would like to follow Chirac, but he was different’, he didn’t get up and say ‘Chirac’s a poopy head.’ He said, ‘I'm running separate from and by the way, she's a socialist’, and that’s what our candidate will sound like next year. ‘Ah Bush, yea he's president and I'd like to be the next president after Bush and I am different, I am the guy of change, and she's a socialist, so vote for me. ‘I'm not him.’ You want triangulation? ‘I'm not him, I'm not her, I'm me,’ and there will be triangulation. It is easier if Bush loosens the reigns and is more fluid in his approach because then there's this sense that… right now there isn’t on the center right an opening for a conversation on this stuff, which there needs to be.

JOE SUDBAY, AMERICABLOG.COM: Asked about Mitt and guns, what about Rudy and guns and what does that do for NRA, which as you know, has become a very major part of the GOP grass roots coalition?

NORQUIST: Rudy's biggest problem is guns, its not the pro-life issue and the reason for that is if you look at Rudy Giuliani's position on abortion, as I was told by his staff, here's Rudy's position on abortion, here’s what he is going to be saying. He's for the Hyde Amendment, which has federal funding for the restrictions, and he's against partial birth abortion, and he's for serious judges. For the Right to Life Committee, that’s what they need, they don’t need, the Right to Life Committee is run by Catholics who don’t insist on hearing the preacher talk about something, they want to know your bottom line on the issues. There are other people who go, ‘no we’d like to hear our president give a sermon on the subject.’ If you're not interested in the sermon and you just want what matters, against partial birth abortion, for the Hyde Amendment and serious judges then you’ve really got… you’ve done what’s necessary. This is the lady senator from Texas who ran as a pro-life, pro-choicer but is for those three positions and for every vote that comes up in the senate she votes pro-life because that’s what comes up in the Senate. Nobody asks you to vote one way or another on Roe v. Wade. If they had asked her to vote on Roe v. Wade she'd be pro Roe v. Wade, but that’s not a vote and the President is not going to have a vote on that either.

The serious, gown up, right to life movement, which will articulate to everybody else this, can and would be fine with Rudy. Now, when he got up and was asked about it he said, ‘I’m for federal funding,’ which is not inconsistent with the articulated position, it’s just not the way to frame it when you’re talking to the Republican base. You say, ‘I’m for Hyde,’ which allows federal funding for the exceptions, but he said it the other way. It’s the gun issue that’s more problematic.

Now I have seen him speak, Rudy Giuliani, in North Carolina where he endorsed the DC court decision which says the second amendment is a fundamental, individual right. OK, how do you square that with support for the Sullivan law? You can’t have local option on fundamental civil liberties. So, that’s a little more challenging. Do I believe that he would push for any restrictions on guns? No. Do I believe he would be a problem on any of the legislation that we would like at the national level? No. Has he staked out a position historically that’s problematic? Yes. And I think that’s a bigger problem to be solved. It’s not impossible, but it is a bigger challenge for Rudy, even then some of the social issues, because at the end of the day, you can live with the President not being somewhere, as opposed to the House and Senate people.

Can I just share with some people, I gave you really cool stuff here. This is the map on where right to carry states have passed. The gun control people tell me there are about three million people with concealed carry laws. I could never give the NRA to give me good numbers. The fewer numbers of murders and rapists that exist in all of the right to carry states because as soon as you pass right to carry, crime drops in those states compared to other states with the exception of car theft, when there is nobody there. So, in Florida, bad guys steal empty cars; they do not mug people who might carry guns.

This is one that I hope we can all work together on. (Ralph) Nader and I are sending a letter to every governor in the country on transparency. We’ve been working on this this year, Nader was much more active in the federal legislation then we were last year, but we took it to the states this year. This is all government contracts, up on the web, searchable. Contracts, grants, in Texas its all government expenditures, all government expenditures, up on the web, searchable. The governor of Texas did this unilaterally by just putting his own expenditures up on the web, nobody else's, just his offices and it rolled from their, passed in Kansas, Hawaii, Democratic state, both houses, Oklahoma, Minnesota and the governor of… is this a secret?

There is a Republican governor who on July 7th will have, they’ve actually got, it will all go up on the web on July 7th in his state. I'm going to other guys around the country and urging them to do the same. Nader and I are doing a joint letter to every governor saying, ‘You've got to take a look at this.’ I believe that this is the next big thing, getting the states to have complete fiscal transparency and then moving it down to local government as well. I tend to think if people saw how the money was spent they'd want the government to have less, Nader's position is that he's worried that businesses rip off the government. I’m with him, I’m with me, I think that we could both be very happy on this project.

This is the quotation that I am going to have tattooed on Tom Tancredo when he falls asleep some day, this is the rum, Romanism and rebellion quotation, this cost us the Roman Catholic vote in the United States for 110 years and we need to be reminded of that and there’s the wonderful quote from FDR explaining that really Jews and Catholics aren’t part of the American fabric, and FDR was not that long ago. This level of rhetoric is the exactly the kind of thing that we are hearing about Hispanics and it is completely unacceptable. We recognize it as unacceptable about Jews and Catholics, we ought to understand that it is equally unacceptable with our friends.

This is just our fun poster about bad people who vote for tax increases. You guys could pass it out as advertising for them I guess. ‘Hey, vote for these guys, they’re great!’ Just drop the ‘least’ and you’re all set.

This is a very interesting data on organized labor in the private sector, which as a percentage of the work force has been declining every year sense the yellow mark which is '58. Interesting on the trends category.

SHAPIRO: It actually numerically declined in ’57 because ’58 was the middle of the recession. Well the percentage went up, but the actual number if you’ll look at your chart, went down.

NORQUIST: Oh, OK.

SHAPIRO: So it’s fifty years now.

NORQUIST: Fifty years? Oh, exactly fifty years.

SCHERER: Is there a public sector one?

NORQUIST: Now the problem with the public sector one is that when you see those charts that show what percentage of the private and public sector, is in 1962, the public sector goes from ten percent up to thirty and then it stays level, thirty to fourty, because there is some redefinition that the government did. Because I thought, ‘what, did they pass some law and everyone got unionized in the same year.’ It’s not the federal law or the executive order that JFK did which increased the federal one somewhat. It’s a weak understanding of how many people used to....

Remember the teachers unions used to be associations and then all of the sudden they said ‘we’re a union?’ Well, that’s several million, so we don’t have the same thing, it’s roughly thirty-five, thirty-eight, and it hasn’t into been going up or down. I'm surprised that it hasn’t been moving one-way or the other. I could make an argument for either. It’s when you add them together that you get 12 1/2 percent of the total work force unionized, 7.4 percent of the public sector unionization and about 38 percent of government employees.

This is the target chart, guys, this is the Ds who are sitting in districts that voted for Bush in the House, 61. This is Rs sitting in districts who voted for Kerry and on the back the same thing for the Senate. This is the, one thing to notice there are 34 House seats that Bush carries 55% of the vote, remember he only got 51% of the vote in the whole country. This was a very weak reelection. Iraq was a boat anchor then, not just in ‘06, it was a boat anchor in ‘04. In a district where Bush gets 54% of the vote when he's only getting 51% national, that is a strong tending–R distinct, there are 34 D’s in those districts. So those are the interesting ones to watch for Republican interest, and then these are the ones that are interesting to watch, the 8 R’s in Kerry's districts same thing on the back for the Senate and then we just have the list of pledge takers.

And then everything you ever wanted to know about the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT). Just a reminder guys: Democrats created in '67, they vote for it ‘69, they increase it in ‘93, and they voted to save it when the Republicans voted to abolish it in ‘99. As Sen. Lott told me yesterday, he actually had an amendment this spring to abolish it, failed by one vote. So that’s going to be an interesting debate because Rahm Emmanuel has talked about using the AMT to get the Democrats right on the tax issue again. I don't think that’ll work, but I'm always willing to have D’s to talk about guns and taxes, because I think those are fine conversations to have.

Great to be with you guys. Again, Maria put together a wonderful institution. We are shamelessly mimicking it every month here with the American Spectator, where we bring the center right columnists and bloggers together.

RATNER: Have you invited any libs yet to speak?

NORQUIST: We haven’t. We’ve really just started. We’ve had the Governor of Texas. A bunch of the presidential candidates. Gingrich is coming next month. Bob Novak has written a book, so we’re going to have Novak in. He’s sort of a newsmaker as opposed to a elected official. But I think we will. As you know, at our center right coalition in the last couple years we had Soros come, he both sat in for an hour and presented. We had Al Gore come and give his movie about penguins, and I may have missed pieces of it. Nader has been and presented on Green Party stuff and possible areas of working together. I think that’s our… Oh, Donna Brazile has been in to present.

Some people go ‘Oh, why do you have Al Gore come and present on his theological heresy?’ and I said ‘look, we have all religions here, pagans too,’ but no. If you want to argue the opposite of this or that position, you’d better be able to argue the smartest guy on the other side, not the weakest guy. No fun beating up on straw men, ‘cause you can all go around and say ‘oh, the left says this and that’s stupid.’ Well, yea, given your characterization of it, you can beat that straw man, and you’d better be able to deal with… After that everybody said ‘we have nothing like that film,’ and people went out and worked harder, so that was useful.

RATNER: Thank you.

NORQUIST: Thank you.