An Alliance for Freedom?

Republican strategist Grover Norquist insists the Leave Us Alone Coalition is alive and well.

Born in 1956 and raised in Massachusetts, Grover Norquist is the unofficial head of what he calls the “Leave Us Alone Coalition,” a loose affiliation of people and groups dedicated to, as the subtitle of his new book Leave Us Alone puts it, “getting the government’s hands off our money, our guns, our lives.” The coalition, Norquist writes, “will triumph in the long unending struggle to define America. But there will be bad election years, disappointing candidates, bad breaks, and undeserved luck on both sides. There will be wars and recessions. There is nothing inevitable about our moving toward the city on a hill Ronald Reagan spoke of: a nation of individual liberty and economic prosperity that shares its vision of the good life through example, not empire.”

A diehard Republican who rarely misses an opportunity to criticize the GOP (see the above passage), Norquist has run Americans for Tax Reform, an advocacy group that calls for lower and lower taxes, since 1985. ATR is perhaps best-known for pushing hard, and successfully, for the reduction of top marginal tax rates from 50 percent to 28 percent in 1986 and for asking candidates to sign its “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” a vow never to increase marginal tax rates. Norquist orchestrates a famous Washington, D.C.-based “Wednesday meeting” in which various members of the Leave Us Alone Coalition come together to share information, argue, and stoke their limited-government enthusiasm. (During the Clinton years, the Wednesday meeting was known as the weekly gathering of the “vast right-wing conspiracy.”)

Over the years, Norquist has worked with people ranging from felonious lobbyist Jack Abramoff to Angolan guerilla leader Jonas Savimbi to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to consumer advocate Ralph Nader. (He collaborated with Nader recently on an initiative to promote transparency in government spending.) He is without a doubt one of the most influential figures in Washington during the last 25 years.

In May, Norquist sat down with Editor Nick Gillespie to discuss his book, the future of partisan politics in the U.S., and more.

Video of the interview is online at Comments can be sent to

reason: What’s the basic proposition of Leave Us Alone?

Grover Norquist: It’s a description of the center-right coalition in American politics, the Reagan Republicans’ conservative coalition as opposed to the “Takings Coalition” of the left.

The idea of the Leave Us Alone Coalition is that everybody is there because on the issue that moves their vote—not all issues; they’re not all libertarians—but on the issue that moves their vote, what they want from the government is to be left alone. So around a table [are] the guys who want their money left alone, their guns left alone, their family left alone, their faith left alone, their homeschooling left alone. They’re in on one issue, the one they vote on.

I’m on the board of the National Rifle Association. I can assure you that many of the gun people in this country who vote on guns have what I consider the oddest views on free trade with China, but they don’t vote on that issue, so in a political sense it’s irrelevant. That’s what holds the coalition together.

2006 was a bad year. Why? The Republicans didn’t offer tax cuts or spending restraint, any of the issues that would’ve appealed to the Leave Us Alone Coalition.

reason: What about the Leave Iraq Alone Coalition? How does foreign policy fit into this?

Norquist: It doesn’t, and that’s why it’s been a problem for the modern Republican Party. The Leave Us Alone Coalition includes people who want to be left alone in terms of having foreigners not invade the United States and having a serious police force to stop crime. Now the question comes: Does occupying Iraq for five years contribute to the defense of the United States, or is it a provocation that will create other problems down the road?

reason: Many conservatives are starting to say, “OK, this is enough,” or that Iraq was folly to begin with. Clearly, before the 9/11 attacks, the stock Republican position was we shouldn’t be intervening militarily as much as Bill Clinton did, and it seems like some of that mentality is coming back. But [interventionism] has become a defining characteristic of the Republican Party.

Norquist: Bush ran promising not to be a foreign adventurer like Clinton. And the Republicans said we’re not going to engage in that. Clinton’s worse because he’s crazy, and he does things like go into Kosovo and Serbia.

When the United States was hit on September 11, there was a sense that we needed to do something to protect ourselves. People were pretty much open to just about anything because they hadn’t thought it through. They wanted something done. The response of going after Al Qaeda in Afghanistan seemed to make some sense. The jump from there to Iraq was kind of made based on faith—that certain things were true that in retrospect may not have exactly been true.

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  • ||

    Twenty IQ points? So, the average libertarian is 120 and the average conservative is 100? Or am I giving the conservatives too much credit?

  • Alan Vanneman||

    Sorry, but I found this more than a bit of a powder-puff interview. Grover rambles on and on, recycling the same old talking points he's been using for years. What about that baby he wanted to strangle? How's that workin' out for you, big guy?

    Nick's questioning, and Grover's answers, regarding le affaire Abramoff were less than exhaustive. Readers who'd like a little more detail about how the right-wing money laundering game is played might want to resort to Wikipedia

    Scroll down to the "Allegation of Double Dealing" subhead.

  • BC||

    Why no questions regarding the fuckin' drug war?

  • Orange Line Special||

    Great interview, good to see Nick make a contribution.

    However, those who have cast iron stomachs might want to look up a CSPAN event featuring Grover sitting side-by-side - and agreeing - with those on the far-left, such as the head of the Mexican government-linked ACLU and Cecilia Munoz of the NCLR. Why would he be interested in giving them even more power than they have now? Maybe someone should follow the money instead of just doing puffball interviews.

  • ||

    Norquist is full of crap. For years he's touted his small government message, but enjoys "carrying the water" for big government conservatives. He sold out his principles a long time ago for access and influence.

  • ||

    Pat Robertson is really a friend of liberty? You could have fooled me.

    I agree with other commenters; this might have been a more interesting interview if the interviewer had been well-prepared and ready to challenge Norquist. Let Jesse do it next time.

  • shecky||

    Norquist seemed perfectly willing to fall into the same old right v left babble, were it not for the meager moderation offered by Nick, where he has to back pedal, soften and qualify his previous words. Not to mention the platitudes that went unchallenged. This makes me thing his Leave Us Alone group is only really concerned about getting folks elected with an "(R)" behind their names, regardless of actual ideologies.

  • gmatts||

    "one of the things I point out in the book is the actual history of how the religious right, the traditional-values activists, got involved in politics. It did not come about after Roe v. Wade. It did not come about after prayer was dropped from public schools. It came about in '77, '78, when the Carter administration went after Christian radio stations using the Fairness Doctrine. The devil or somebody wasn't being treated fairly, and they were going to go after Christian radio stations and Christian schools."

    Sure, Grover. Thats the issue that has galvanized the religious right all these years - radio stations. Thats all I ever recall when the causes of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell come up - radio stations.

  • ||

    I've never seen someone sound like such a libertarian, yet in reality be such a die-hard, party-line Republican hack.

    He supports McCain. He supported Bush. He has and continues to support the mainstream GOP. However nice a game he may talk- the people he helps get into office have all seriously undermined and openly worked against his stated goal of having the government leave people alone.

    He's not a man pro-liberty types should be pleased with, and his "coalition" is not libertarian. He's just a conservative with a hard-on for tax cuts.

  • Eleutherian||

    A lot of justified comments on Grover's background, but we can't ignore his basic premise that people often have "one issue that moves their vote." Grover's coalition has sought out that issue of very differing groups from immigrant Muslims to the NRA.

    Also, in response to gmatts: "Sure, Grover. Thats the issue that has galvanized the religious right all these years - radio stations. Thats all I ever recall when the causes of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell come up - radio stations."

    Actually, Grover is largely correct. He did not say this issue has galvanized the religious right all these years. He said this was the catalyst of the movement itself. If McCain manages to win this election, its because of Obama's support for the Fairness Doctrine.

  • ||

    Maybe Grover really is a libertarian, but he just goes where the power is. Libertarians have little influence without associating with one of the evil majority groups. He probably gets off on being a power broker for people he despises.

  • thoreau||

    Norquist talks a lot about voters being motivated by one or two issues, but I'm not sure this description is so useful for predicting what voters will do. Voters are used to certain packages. Generally, a candidate who favors tax cuts is probably economically conservative overall, and is probably at least somewhat socially conservative, and is probably at least somewhat friendly to the 2nd amendment. Yes, there are exceptions (many of them) but if you have to bet, these are the safe bets. I wonder how many allegedly single-issue voters would really turn out to be single-issue if confronted by two candidates who otherwise fit the general party mold but deviated on that single issue (with the Democrat taking the normally Republican stand and the Republican taking the normally Democratic stand).

  • ||

    The local offshoot of the Norquist group, the Grassroot Institute's calabash, is an eclectic mix of conservatives and libertarians -- attendees have included the cross-dressing pro-prostitution former head of the Libertarian Party, gay rights activists, medical marijuana activists, anti-tax conservatives, Ron Paul supporters, homeschoolers, etc.

  • ||

    Funny how Grover neglected to include all of the "private" businesses that most prominently figure in the takings coalition. The big, unioinized construction companies, the developers and the businesses that will operate on the taken land. Rent seeking scum.

    Many of you probably know such rent seeking scum and may have heard individaul rent seeking scumbags opine that they "are for limited government" and "low taxes", etc. I personally know dozens of these rent seekers right here in the People's Republic of Massachusetts. Funny though, most of them are republicans.

  • gmatts||

    "Also, in response to gmatts: "Sure, Grover. Thats the issue that has galvanized the religious right all these years - radio stations. Thats all I ever recall when the causes of Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell come up - radio stations."

    Actually, Grover is largely correct. He did not say this issue has galvanized the religious right all these years. He said this was the catalyst of the movement itself. If McCain manages to win this election, its because of Obama's support for the Fairness Doctrine."

    But the question put to Norquist was not what got the religious right started (and I'm still not willing to concede Norquist's explanation), the question was about what the religious right is most concerned with nowadays. And it's not the fairness doctrine. What they are most concerned with is gays, school prayer, pornography - the culture war. So, basically Norquist dodged the question by giving an answer to a question that was not asked.
    And what makes you think that the '08 election for PResident is going to come down to the Fairness Doctrine.

  • ||

    Grover's "coalition" is misnamed. From what he says they are the "Leave Me Alone Coalition" not the "Leave Us Along Coalition" and that is why it is so ineffective. Until each of those groups are willing to fight for the freedom of each other it won't be effective. The big government types on the Left and Right will just pick them off one at a time.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    Lonewhacko sounds like such a one-note douche, he has to be a joke.

    Norquist sucks. He kept felating the "conservative" assholes who do exactly the same shit he blames the "liberal" assholes for doing. This interview could have torn through his shit.

  • Chris Baker||

    He's the classic example of the battered conservative. Just as the battered wife keeps going back to her husband, the battered conservative keeps going back to "his" party.

  • Mots||

    I would have the greatest respect for Norquist's 'leave us alone coalition' if it included those who wish to left alone to smoke pot or smoke pole.

    Until then, he's just a partisan hack.

  • ||

    Nick: Of all the issues you allowed Grover to duck, how in the world could you not at least ask about his support of the Medicare Prescription Drug benefit legislation? That is exhibit A for the points many people are making on this thread.

  • Robert||

    I would have the greatest respect for Norquist's 'leave us alone coalition' if it included those who wish to left alone to smoke pot or smoke pole.

    I asked him about that in 1997. (Or maybe it was 1993.) He said that those groups tended not to work with the coalition. That is, the "right"-ish cast of the coalition came about because those groups were better at logrolling -- would go to bat for someone else's "leave us alone" in return for support of their own. By contrast, to the extent pot smokers and those with a "left"-like orientation organized to be left alone, they did not contribute well to such coalitions. In my experience, he's right. On the "left", they tend not even to help each other out outside their own parochial interest, while those on the "right" are more willing to reach out.

    How else would you explain this coming about? I mean, starting from scratch he could've shaped the Leave Us Alone Coalition (which at that time was operating largely via fax network) in any direction, so how do you explain the way it turned out? Experience, trial & error is the explanation I buy.

    But I can think of one more influence. During the period in question, the Leave Us Alone Coalition was interested primarily in stopping legislative and administrative changes that threatened their freedoms, mostly reacting to developments, organizing against bills. That's a lot easier to do than achieving changes, which unfortunately is what most of the interests on the "left" would require to be left alone -- i.e. positive changes in laws regarding sex, drugs, gambling, etc. So they took the path of least resistance, which is smart but results unavoidably in a conservative orientation.

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