American People Discuss with Government
Interview with ATR's President Grover G. Norquist

Grover Norquist, the leader of the American taxpayer protection movement, shared his thoughts on dealing with governmental regulations under the COVID-19 crisis.

Interviewer: Satoshi Nishihata


President of Americans for Tax Reform. He founded the ATR at the request of President Reagan, and has been active as the leader of the American taxpayer protection movement. In 1993 he launched his Wednesday Meetings series for conservatives in Washington D.C. and contributed significantly to the Republican victory in the 1994 Republican Revolution. He congratulated Trump after his victory in the 2016 presidential election on his website, and played a significant role in the White House and Congress tax cut policy of 2017.


A Big Mistake of Overreaction and Economic Shutdown

――The first question is about deregulation. You have insisted on the importance of deregulation as well as tax reduction. In the United States, the spread of COVID-19 leads to nationwide lockdowns and restrictions of business activities. Now, the process of economic reopening is different among each state. What is your perspective about the measures taken?

Grover Norquist: Sure. Big picture, it was a mistake to quarantine everybody instead of quarantining those people who were older and ill who were susceptible to being killed by COVID. The CDC came out and said, “Only 6 percent of people were killed by COVID. Everybody else had some other problem that COVID aggravated.”

We’ve ended up telling healthy people not to go to work instead of saying, “If you’re sick, stay home and if you’re old, make sure that the people visit you don’t have COVID.” The big deaths, the unnecessary deaths, were people in old folks’ homes and nursing homes where Democratic governors sent people there because it was less expensive than hospitals, but without protection against COVID. The big mistake was the overreaction and closing the economy rather than protecting vulnerable people.


What the Press Don’t Report: Massive Deregulation in the U.S.

In the United States, we have actually had massive deregulation because of COVID and this doesn’t get a lot of attention because the press doesn’t think this way. When COVID hit, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) said, “We will come up with a test for whether you have COVID or not.”

For six weeks, they told everybody else, “You can’t do a test. Not the private sector, not pharmaceutical companies, not universities, not hospitals, just as, CDC.” And then CDC came up with something that didn’t work. Eventually, they opened it up to everybody to say, “Okay, other people can do it,” and very quickly, we had many different kinds of tests. So we said to the government, “You can’t have a monopoly anymore,” deregulation number one. We may still be looking for the CDC to get their act together, but they didn’t.

Two, the FDA had a rule that everyone had to send their test into the CDC before they could be told what happened. Why? This is so that the CDC can count things. That takes time and the government said, “Stop that.” Then, when we’re looking for a vaccine, there were all sorts of rules and regulations, like when AIDS hit, you had this situation where they sped up the process by saying, “We don’t have time to do it this way. Is this necessary?” They found that a lot of them were necessary, so they sped up the process.

They said it would take two years, but we are speeding up the process. It’s taking less than a year and we’ll have not one but several vaccines. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is like, “No, no. We know everything. We’re the boss. We will tell you what’s safe.” “Bye, bye, bye, bye. We don’t have time. You’re not the boss.” At our website, Americans For Tax Reform,, there are eight hundred deregulation moves nationwide that happened as a result of COVID including allowing people to use telemedicine on the phone.

Instead of getting an old person to go down to the hospital, meet 20 people and maybe get COVID or give somebody else COVID, you call the doctor on the phone: “This is what I’m feeling like. What do you think?” Maybe you need to meet the doctor but you could start with a phone call, not just on COVID, but for everything.

If you’re trying to get people to stay home, not touch everybody else, not bring maybe sick people into a hospital or a doctor’s office, start with the phone. For 20 years we’ve worked in the United States to say that if you’re a licensed doctor, nurse, pediatrician or plumber in one state, you should be able to drive across the country and do that job in all 50 states. We should not have to go take another test, wait, write letters or go to college again. Each of the 50 states have these little dentists and don’t want new dentists moving to their state. New dentists would create competition. They like having a few dentists in their state so they can make more money.

Some states are keeping it compact. For example, this is like everybody in New England saying, “All of our doctors can go visit each other,” okay? Arizona said, “If you’re a doctor somewhere else, you’re a doctor here. If you’re a nurse somewhere else, you’re a nurse here. You come here. That’s it. We accept that if New York said you’re a nurse you’re a nurse here. If you are a realtor selling houses, you’re a realtor selling houses here.” Eight states have done it for everybody.

A bunch of states have done it for people in the military. If you moved to Texas because you’re in the army and your wife moves with you, her certificate works in any state. Liquor is very regulated in the United States because it is unlike all other products for which the commerce clause in the Constitution says, “You can’t interfere with commerce.” But we had prohibition and then an end to prohibition, we said, “You can have liquor.”

They said every state can make up its own rules, which means that you can regulate spirits, liquor or beer in Massachusetts, Texas or California in a way you could never regulate a phone or a pencil. You can’t tell somebody to not move a pencil across state lines.

The same goes for liquor. It was against the law in Texas to buy a beer at a restaurant and take it out with you. Now they legalized it because restaurants wanted to be able to serve liquor, which is like half or a third of their revenues. All this deregulation is happening. There were also a lot of very bad laws passed in 1945 and 1967 when different riots took place giving governors massive powers if they say it’s an emergency. Some of those governors were using all these powers. No going to church. No doing this. No doing that. They have a movement in Michigan to put on the ballot, a measure to repeal the 1945 emergency law. That was where there was a big riot in Detroit in 1943, so they passed a law allowing the government to shut Detroit down if there was another riot. But the ’73 law deals with pandemics and that’s fairly reasonable. They’re going to keep the ’73 law, but the governor’s been governing off the ’45 law.

We’re stripping governors of their powers to abuse people. That’s mostly in red states. But I think you’ll see initiatives and measures to stop that kind of abuse. We have had many deregulations under Trump on general economics, which has been very helpful. When all of the deregulation rules are in effect, some phased in within the next year or two, it will save the American people at least $290 billion a year in lower regulatory costs, plus advancements in medical procedures. We’ve actually had a classical liberalization of regulatory policy because the problem with the US dealing with COVID was not the private sector, it was stupid government rules. That’s what we had to get rid of.


The Best Deregulatory Move? Force Governments to Compete

――It seems that in some cases, governors have much stronger power than the president. I think it’s very unique in the United States. What do you think about this distribution of power within the U.S. system?

Grover Norquist: Sometimes in United States, we have this false argument about state rights. States do not have rights; people have rights. States have powers. The reason why we like certain decisions made by 50 governors from 50 state legislatures is because there are 50 of them. If the president makes a decision, it’s one decision for the whole country. What if it’s a stupid decision? But there are 50 governors, and the president basically said to the governors, “You decide how much to be open and shut.” Some states stayed pretty open, and some states were pretty shut down. And the states that were shut down have more deaths and lousier economies than the states that were more open.

Right now, it’s all political. CNN won’t report how bad New York did, but everyone in New York knows it and a few in Florida know it. People thought, “Oh, Florida is too open. Everyone’s going to die.” Except they didn’t. The best deregulatory move is to force governments to compete with each other. Some states remain closed longer than they need to, and it’s clear that they’ve made a bad mistake compared to their neighbors. People will lose elections because of that. I think it’s very, very important that we sort of get this right. But you get it right not because one very smart person or committee decides something for the whole country. You get it right because they’re 50 people trying, 50 states trying and many cities. So it’s important to understand that it will reopen faster if you have good examples.


Trump Drives Progress on COVID-19

――Oh, I see. Could you briefly evaluate Trump’s policies toward COVID-19 so far?

Grover Norquist: Well, he made a mistake in trusting the experts, but every country made a similar mistake. The experts said, “We’re going to close things down for two weeks in order to bend the curve down,” but we know a certain number of people didn’t get COVID. It’s just the way it is, right? But they did get it out. And so we did it, and we did it for another month or whatever.

And then all of a sudden, they changed the metric to, “Do we have enough ventilators?” We never ran out of ventilators. We never ran out of hospital beds. The curve went down so that you never had five people go to a hospital with only two beds. This is what they were worried about, similarly to Italy: “We only have 10 respirators and 100 people need them.

You need to tell 90 people they are going to die or they might die. But they changed it to, “Oh, we can’t do this until COVID is over.” Well, that’s a year. We have the flu every year. This is the flu. And it’s not clear. It’s more deadly than other flus. Certainly, not as deadly as some others. The experts basically lied about their knowledge. They lied about what they thought would work.

They said, “Two weeks, and we’ll be all set.” No. “Four weeks, we’ll be all set.” Now, we’re no longer worried about bending the curve down because we did. Now, we want some other metric which is ridiculous, which is that nobody ever gets COVID. That’s not happening. I think the president has done well in the following way. The CDC lied to him and said they were the only people who can do the test. He eventually said, “No. Open up to other people.” When FDA said, “We have to go slow,” he said, “No.” He’s really driven the progress here. He’s done a very good job, much better than the two flus that came through under Obama, where they used up all the ventilators, respirators and masks and forgot to replace them.

――President Trump also wants to reopen businesses.

Grover Norquist: I think Trump has largely gotten it right, with the exception of listening too much to the experts. But sending it to 50 states means we will learn what works and what doesn’t work, so we can screw up the second time.


Encouraging Japanese People to Stand Up Against Government

――My second question is about the Japanese situation. In Japan, many shops and offices are following the business suspension request and shortening business hours of national and local governments. Some people are afraid that they can’t continue their business even with a compensation from the government if a second or third wave of the various eviction returns. Even though there is no legal binding force, some people gave up opening for regular hours under this air of self-restraint and the existence of self-appointed pandemic police force., I think this is very Japanese phenomenon;. Japanese people are apt to avoid presenting their opinion and instead obey peer pressure. What kind of advice would you give the Japanese people or government?

Grover Norquist: U.S. is different culturally. There is a famous quotation from the Prussian military leader who is training American troops. He said, in Europe, you tell people, “Turn right. Turn left. Walk that way. Do this.” You could tell them what to do, and they’ll do it.

In the United States, you have to explain why. Then they’ll do. But they won’t obey words like, “Do this. Do that.” They just look at you and ask, “Why?” And when you say, “Here’s why you need to do it,” it finally makes sense and they agree to do it. And in the United States, if the government says, “Well, you have to do this. And don’t do that.” “But why?” And if they don’t have a good reason, people go, “I may want to not do it because I don’t want a fine or something. But if nobody’s looking, I’m paying no attention to a stupid rule.” So you do see people beginning to push the boundaries to say, “Hey government, this is ridiculous. Back off.” There were rallies against such over-playing with the government’s hand. And my sense is that, in Japan, just as the government hands don’t do that, people need to hit back. You don’t have to scream and yell, but you do need to make it clear that there’s a limit to how much the government can push people around, particularly when they don’t really have a good reason.

――My next question is also about the Japanese situation. What kind of ideas do you think is needed for the Japanese people to object to the government restraint of freedom, that is, to protest excessive regulation or tax increases?

Grover Norquist: The best way to encourage people in Japan to resist over-regulation or too much government control is to be able to point to other countries and other states or provinces that have done it differently. The government say, “Everyone has to do it this way, it’s the only way to do it.” But over there you can see New Zealand, the U.S. or Sweden with a different approach. Well, why not that? I mean there have been different countries that people have put forward and said, “This is an example of extreme shut down. This is an example of a light touch restraint. Let’s see what works.”

I think the best thing is to get some examples and look at those. Because then you can say to somebody, “Well, you say we have to do this, but over there they didn’t, and they’re also having success.” There is an alternative. It’s a Plato way. Instead of saying you’re wrong, you just say, “Can you explain why Sweden didn’t have a lockdown and is doing better than Italy which had a lockdown and isn’t doing as well?”

――Do you think of any other countries like Japan where people are very quiet and do not protest very much?

Grover Norquist: Well, I’m surprised at what people are putting up with everywhere. There’s much too much acquiescence in the United States too. But there’s also loud complaints from some. Some countries are just more used to everybody doing the same or the government dictating more than others. And I think the Russians are pretty used to being told what to do.


Online Meetings Facilitate Effective Discussion for ATR

――The last question is about the ATR. As the president of ATR, so what do you think are the keys to continuing and expanding your activity in the United States under these circumstances?

Grover Norquist: For 27 years from 1993 to 2020, we’ve had the Wednesday meeting in DC and we’ve been working in all 50 states. ATR was founded during Reagan’s administration.

Now we can’t meet because of COVID so we meet online. And we still have about 160 people. Many of the states also meet online. I used to have five people whose job was to travel to the meetings in 50 states and help them grow and come back to talk about how each state is doing.

Now, I go to half the state meetings on video, so I know exactly how well they’re doing. And I get to talk to them. If somebody tells me their meeting is really good and I look and see there are only 20 people, that’s not really good. I have a much better sense of the structures than what we used to have. And we’ve grown our meetings. Then we’re setting up structures inside the legislative bodies of each House or Senate.

――I see. So what are your plans to influence the Congress or the American government?

Grover Norquist: We ask all congressmen to make a pledge to never raise taxes. That’s what we work on doing. We do that with state legislators as well in 50 states. So we are strengthening. We only have about 1,000 people take a pledge at the states, and there are 7,000 legislators. So we have about a quarter of the Republicans. In Washington, we have 90% of Republicans who have signed the pledge. Using technology and traveling less, we see everybody and talk to them. I go to meeting after meeting every month instead of one a year. That’s been a very helpful piece of organizing.

――Yeah, it’s very convenient, and you can expand your activity to the rest of the countries.

Grover Norquist: Yeah, like 25 meetings around the world. One in Tokyo.

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