WASHINGTON -- Grover Norquist, the head of Americans for Tax Reform, responded to President George H.W. Bush's slight on him and his work on Friday, saying Bush lost his bid for a second term because the American people "really don't like when politicians lie to them."
"The rigidity of those pledges is something I don't like," Bush said. "The circumstances change and you can’t be wedded to some formula by Grover Norquist. It's -- who the hell is Grover Norquist, anyway?"
Bush actually signed Norquist's pledge in 1987. Then at the 1988 Republican National Convention, he famously said, "Read my lips: No new taxes." But Bush broke his pledge in a spending compromise with congressional Democrats, and the issue was used by Democrats against him in his reelection campaign.
"He didn't lose this election because he lied to me, he lost the next election because he didn't keep his word to the American people," said Norquist in an interview with The Huffington Post.
Norquist took exception to Bush's focus on him, stressing that the pledge is a commitment to the public.
Referencing a HuffPost headline showing different characters named "Grover," Norquist said, "The key thing: The pledge is not to Grover Cleveland, it's not to Grover the furry monster, it's not to Grover Norquist. It's to the American people."
"I think he was buying into the Harry Reid argument recently that somehow the pledge is to me," Norquist said. "Now he knows better than that ... He gave a speech at the Republican convention. He didn't turn to the side and say, 'By the way, Grover, I won't raise taxes.' He said to the American people, I'm not going to raise your taxes, take that to the bank."
ATR is circulating a 1992 quote by Bush in which the former president seemed to express regret for cutting the tax deal with Democrats.
Norquist attributed the difference to a lapse in memory and time.
"It was 22 years ago. Let's give the guy some slack," he said. "He had an otherwise successful presidency ... He got Iraq out of Kuwait without occupying the place for a decade -- he ought to have a conversation with his son about how you do that. But he had one big hole in the bottom of the boat, and that was a tax increase."
The former president isn't the only member of his family who has dismissed the Norquist pledge. "The pledge was presented to me three times. I never signed the pledge," said former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, son of George H.W. Bush. "I cut taxes every year I was governor. I don’t believe you outsource your principles and convictions to people. I respect Grover’s political involvement. He has every right to do it, but I never signed any pledge."
Still, Norquist said he doesn't resent George H.W. Bush for not sticking to his signed promise.
"The reason why Republicans today take the pledge and keep it is they have the example of George Bush winning the primary because he made that commitment, winning the general election because he made that commitment and then losing the presidency because he broke that commitment to the American people," said Norquist. "So he's a very big part of the success of the Taxpayer Protection Pledge."
In the National Republican Congressional Committee's line-up of "Young Guns" candidates, 53 percent have signed Norquist's pledge. In 2010, 88 percent signed on.