The next Republican presidential nominee need not be a conservative purist with a completely consistent record on issues important to the right, says influential anti-tax activist Grover Norquist.
"We're not looking for a fearless leader," Norquist told me in an interview. "We're not choosing a leader of the party. We know where the party is going."
I asked Norquist specifically about Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts who has been widely criticized for reversing course on issues including abortion and gay marriage. But Norquist was tolerant of Romney's flip-flops, which suggested that activists on the right may be softening their resistance to Romney as their nominee. Norquist said that, regardless of Romney's past positions, "He's now with us" especially on fiscal issues such as reducing taxes, minimizing government regulation, and slashing federal spending.
If Romney became president, he would satisfy the Republican right if he simply signed legislation that congressional Republicans passed, Norquist said, and that includes the controversial budget proposal advanced by Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin which involves long-term cuts in Medicare. Any Republican president who approved such conservative legislation should be acceptable to the right, Norquist said.
He predicted that the congressional "super committee" that is now debating a deficit-reduction package will fail to reach a comprehensive agreement, resulting in automatic cuts known as a sequester. "It's most likely we go to a sequester," Norquist said. He noted that the differences between the Democrats and Republicans on the panel seem too deep to bridge. But he said such automatic cuts wouldn't be as serious as widely thought because they wouldn't take effect until 2013.
This would give everyone a year to figure out what to do next. He said the threat of a sequester is turning out to be less a "Sword of Damocles" than "Damocles' kid sister's toy dagger."
Assessing the 2012 election, Norquist said President Obama is doing what he does best—campaigning.
"Obama was a very good candidate and not a very good president," Norquist said. "And he gave up being president and became a candidate as soon as he could."
But Norquist argued that Obama can't resurrect his "hope and change" message from 2008 because he is now the incumbent with a poor record to defend. Norquist added that the country is "sour, depressed, and anxious that things are not going in the right direction" and voters won't "buy the package of hope again."