Meet Grover Norquist’s Enforcer

The media is full of outrage about Grover Norquist, the Republican anti-tax crusader whose famed pledge not to raise taxes is being blamed for keeping Republican congressmen from striking a deal to prevent the US from going over the “fiscal cliff”—when $500 billion in spending cuts and tax increases kick in at the end of this year.

Several senators have said they’re prepared to weather the wrath of Grover in the name of a deal to cut spending and raise some taxes. Norquist has vowed to hold them to their words.

But if Norquist is mostly a media creation, another organization has real teeth. The Club for Growth and its affiliated political action committee actually put their money where their mouth is, bankrolling candidates who back its pro-free-market, anti-tax theology and targeting those who don’t.

The Club for Growth was started by Stephen Moore, the genial supply-side extremist who now is on The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board. He was succeeded by Pat Toomey, who was later elected senator from Pennsylvania.

Former Rep. Chris Chocola, president of the Club for Growth. Photo: Chet Susslin/National Journal.

The Club’s current president is a former two-term Indiana congressman, Chris Chocola, and he’s the real power behind the throne. The Club for Growth’s PAC funnels millions of dollars into House and Senate contests, trying to defeat candidates who don’t hew to its political line.  The Club created the popular “RINO Watch List,” which targets insufficiently conservative candidates (Republicans in Name Only) through primary challenges.

It backed winners Toomey, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul in 2010 but also supported big losers Richard Mourdock in Indiana this cycle and Sharron Angle in Nevada the last time, among others. Had it and its Tea Party allies been willing to give even a little ground, Republicans might control the Senate by now.

And if you think the Club learned any lessons from the Republicans’ 2012 shellacking, you’d be wrong: When Rep. Shelly Moore Capito, a popular Republican West Virginia congresswoman, threw her hat in the ring to replace the aging liberal Sen. Jay Rockefeller this week, Chocola warned her, not so fast:

“Congresswoman Capito has a long record of support of bailouts, pork, and bigger government,” [he] wrote in a press release. “She voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for massive expansions of government-run health insurance, giveaways to big labor, and repeatedly voted to continue funding for wasteful earmarks…”

Maybe so, but Capito has a pretty good chance of defeating Rockefeller and winning that seat for the GOP.  But I guess purity of motive is more important in Republican circles than actually gaining power these days. Chocola and the Club will be happy to serve as the “tax cut enforcer in the party,” in Moore’s memorable phrase. It makes Grover Norquist look like a pussycat in comparison.

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