By Karen Finney - 11/21/11 11:13 PM EST
The Republican Party has gone back to the future — again — as longtime friends and co-collaborators Grover Norquist, Republican operative and president of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), and former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich take the lead. Despite his old baggage and new questions about his “non-lobbying” role providing Freddie Mac “advice on how to reach out to more conservatives,” Newt currently leads the polls in the Republican presidential contest. On Capitol Hill, Norquist is more powerful than ever, as his tax pledge remains one of, if not the, biggest factor preventing congressional Republicans from reaching an agreement with Democrats on how to deal with America’s debt.
Even then, the duo’s close ties were questioned as being more about politics than a conservative policy agenda. Edward Crane, then president of the Cato Institute, reportedly said, “Any intellectual movement is ill-served by being partisan, and Americans for Tax Reform is too closely identified with Gingrich and, after having taken all that money from the RNC, from being identified with Republicans.”
You see, just as the many “intellectual” organizations Gingrich has founded since leaving Congress are now being scrutinized as fronts for his partisan political ambition, under Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform and the ATR Foundation have been investigated for campaign finance violations and use of the organization as a surrogate of the Republican Party.
At about the same time, Gingrich and his oversized ego overreached. In January of 1997 he was investigated for issues involving the use of a tax-exempt college for political purposes, becoming the only Speaker of the House to be reprimanded. Republicans finally realized (as they likely will again) that Gingrich was a liability; he was forced out of power and out of Congress.
If only that part of history would repeat, this time taking Norquist, a divisive, destructive force within his party, out of power.
Karen Finney is a political analyst for MSNBC and Democratic consultant.