Grover Norquist is the president of the national anti-tax group Americans for Tax Reform. More recently, he has become chairman of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project. The group hopes to have some sort of monument erected to the late president and California governor in every one of the country’s 3,067 counties.
Why does Reagan remain such an influential and polarizing figure, particularly today?
When he took office, we had double-digit inflation, we had bad unemployment and the Soviet Union was taking over the world. In eight years, Ronald Reagan turned that around to no inflation, strong economic growth, stronger than the rest of the world that largely continued for the next 20 years, and the Soviet Union was broken without a war.
Churchill screwed up the British economy, convinced the British to be against the Germans after the Germans had invaded France, and at the end of the war, the British Empire was in tatters. Ronald Reagan turned the economy around, replaced himself with someone who promised to govern like he did – unlike Churchill, who handed power to the Socialists. He broke the back of the Soviet Union – the number one threat to the United States – without a war, unlike Britain, which had World War II. Reagan convinced people that the sacrifice and the effort was necessary to confront the Soviet Union without the Soviet Union invading Europe or attacking the United States. FDR came into office in 1932 and the Great Depression bottomed out 10 years later. He didn’t turn the economy around, for crying out loud. He managed a 10-year depression – the first recession the federal government ever decided to fix. He defeated the threats to the United States after they invaded us and we lost hundreds of thousands of people. Take a look at someone you’d say that was a great president, he accomplished a great thing. Lincoln – large quantities of blood on the floor, large problems economically.
Ronald Reagan turned around a bad situation, defeated a very real threat and did so without a lot of blood on the floor. He left the United States phenomenally stronger at the end of his presidency than at the beginning of his presidency. It’s tough to point to someone in modern history who accomplished that. I can’t think of one, not only in our country but in any country. All of this over the objections, over the violent objections, of the establishment Left in America. The New York Times and the Washington Post jeered him and tried to undercut him the whole way, and the three networks. He wasn’t exactly floating along on top of other people’s cheerleading.
To what extent have Reagan’s policies influenced the current conservative movement?
They are the current conservative movement. Ronald Reagan’s position of less regulation, lower spending, cutting taxes, having a pro-growth policy and a strong economy without getting into needless and fruitless wars around the globe was Reagan’s successful policy. That is the model for a successful conservative movement and a successful Republican Party. When we stick with that program, we do well. When we vary from it, we do poorly.
Do you feel there is a partisan nature to the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project?
Reagan was a Republican, but obviously there were independents and Democrats who agreed with him and his vision. He won with 60 percent of the vote, and 60 percent of the country isn’t Republican. But it is true that the modern Republican Party more faithfully follows his model than the modern Democrat Party.
What first drew you to work with Ronald Reagan?
I certainly was aware of him back in ’68, when I was a kid. My grandmother said, “Oh no, we’re supporting Nixon because Reagan and Rockefeller have been divorced.” I was twelve. In ’76, I was certainly more supportive of him than Ford’s approach. I was actively involved in his campaign in ’80. I came to Washington immediately after he won and have been involved in Republican and conservative tax payer politics ever since.
What was the reaction you received from implementing Reagan’s policies, both within the US and abroad?
Certainly, the rest of the world looked at Reagan’s success in cutting marginal tax rates. We see the Eastern European countries, former Soviet Union countries, tend to have flat taxes – Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Russia – they have low marginal tax rates. The European average tax on businesses is 25 percent The United States since Reagan has not continued the progress. We have a 35 percent tax rate in the United States, and Europe has 25 percent Europe has actually been very aggressive in seeing the success in Reagan and moving in that direction.
Besides the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, what issues are currently interesting you?
We’re very active in working to reduce the total tax burden, to abolish the death tax, to reduce marginal tax rates and to stop the imposition of a value-added tax, which is one of the projects of the modern Democratic Party.
In the modern world, what kind of lesson should President Obama and the current government take from Reagan’s legacy?
Look at what works – lower marginal tax rates give you more economic growth. Limited spending gives you more economic growth. Obama has failed to learn from Reagan and that’s why the economy has gotten worse rather than better, when he’s moved in the opposite direction from where Reagan was.