The most important point to make about the spectacle of Grover Norquist being repudiated by some Republicans who signed his pledge is that it's mainly theater. Norquist is on the ropes now and it seems OK to punch him, in front of the cameras; in private, some Republicans may well be reassuring him that they're sticking to the pledge, because they are, more or less.
Still, Norquist is obviously feeling personally disrespected, and he's replying with some weird sexual imagery in chastening Republican apostates. A few have had "impure thoughts," Norquist told CNN, but "no Republican has voted for a tax increase." Really? "Impure thoughts"? Then he attacked New York Rep. Peter King for publicly stating he didn’t consider the no-tax pledge a lifelong vow. In creepy personal terms: "Shame on him," Norquist told Piers Morgan. "I hope his wife understands that commitments last a little longer than two years or something."
His wife? Is Norquist implying the pledge is akin to a marriage vow? Or that King is married to him? The volatile King shot back Tuesday, calling Norquist a "low-life" for comparing his supposed "weaseling out" of his no-tax pledge to violating his marriage vows to his wife.
New York Sen. Chuck Schumer gleefully took up Norquist's marital imagery, claiming Republicans "no longer want to be married to this pledge — they’re saying they want a divorce from Grover Norquist."
On "Hardball," things got even weirder, when deficit hawk and former GOP Sen. Alan Simpson said that he hoped Norquist, famous for saying he wants a government small enough to drown in the bathtub, would himself "slip" and fall in that same tub. “So how do you deal with someone who comes to stop government?" Simpson asked Chris Matthews. "Grover wandering the earth in his white robe saying he wants to drown government in the bathtub. I hope he slips in there with it.” Matthews was briefly speechless.
So Simpson has Norquist wandering in his white robe and slipping in his bathrobe. Norquist sees some Republicans thinking "impure thoughts" and, in the case of Peter King, putting his marriage at risk. King calls Norquist a "low-life," and a chortling Chuck Schumer suggests Republicans want a "divorce" from Norquist. It's all getting personal, and kind of juvenile.
But do Republicans really want a divorce? There's lots of talk about the need for new "revenues" as part of any deal over the "fiscal cliff"; but there's no talk about higher tax rates, which is the only deal that will fly with Democrats. So far, Norquist is getting publicly dissed, but GOP tax policy hasn't changed much. And he's personally doing fine: Lee Fang at the Nation revealed this week that he gets two-thirds of his funding from two big corporate billionaire-backed nonprofits: the Center to Protect Patients Rights, which donated $4,189,000 to Americans for Tax Reform in 2010, and Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS, which gave him $4 million.
Still, Norquist's odd sexual imagery around his "pledge" seems to reveal a man who's worried about betrayal and taking things weirdly personally. And this debate over taxes is just getting started. Imagine a New Year's Eve, always a treacherous night for romantic yearning and disappointment, when we're headed over the so-called fiscal cliff. I don't even want to imagine the overwrought synonyms for betrayal Norquist might be driven to employ. Well, OK, maybe I do.