GROVER SPEAKS, WE...

GROVER SPEAKS, WE LISTEN. The Prospect hosted a breakfast with conservative enforcer and liberal bogeyman Grover Norquist today and, let's just be honest -- the man gives good quotes. No wonder reporters like to call him up. He also took an obvious delight in taking on a room full of liberals. Some of his answers were insightful, some informative, some nuts, some the utterances of a man deep in denial. Which is to say, you could hardly have hoped for a livelier breakfast guest. A few notes:

Grover on political coalitions: "If you keep everyone happy on their primary issue but disappoint them on their secondary issue, everyone grumbles, but no one walks out." This is Grover's way of reconciling what is a tolerant, pro-immigrant, pro-gay worldview with his partisan electoral concerns. He's convinced, or at least hopeful, that gays and immigrants are a second-tier issue, subordinate to taxes and regulations. The trick is figuring out "when you are talking to somebody on a vote moving primary issue and when on something they just heard on talk radio." This strikes me as remarkably naive. To subvert the old Upton Sinclair quote, it is very hard to get someone to understand something when their morality depends on remaining naive.

On institution building: The left, he argued, shouldn't seek to simply mimeograph the right's structure -- CAP for Heritage, Media Matters for Media Research Council, etc. "You don't have to have the same weapons in politics because both aren't structured the same." Back in gladitorial days, one warrior would have a sword, the other a trident and net. You play to your strengths, not to your opponent's. I found this to be a remarkably compelling point.

On Mitt Romney: Grover's a fan if for no other reason than he hopes a Romney candidacy will tamp down on anti-Mormon sentiment. Thirty years ago, nearly half of Americans confessed that they'd oppose a Jewish or black President, now the numbers are in the single digits. Thirty years ago, 18 percent said they'd oppose a Mormon. Today? Seventeen percent.

On Gingrich: Originally, Newt was just toying with a candidacy to hype book sales. But more and more, "I think Newt looks around and says, 'I know all these guys who're doing this, I can do better than this."

On Mark Warner: If he runs in the general, we'll beat him. We know how to beat those guys, guys who lie and then raise taxes. We wouldn't even need to rewrite the literature.

On McCain: "The right-to-life folks have figured out that McCain can't get them their judge. His goal in life is to etch Keating 5 off his tombstone and replace it with 'campaign finance reform.' But no judge will look at the constitution and see room for campaign finance reform but not abortion."

He also let slip that he's spent the last few weeks helping the Bush administration craft a major new health plan focused on a radical expansion of health savings accounts, whose structure he didn't quite seem to understand. Color me excited.

--Ezra Klein

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