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Grover Norquist explains what it takes to change American politics

Advocates For Taxation Of Marijuana Businesses Hold Press Conference Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

"There isn't anything you can do about tomorrow. There isn't anything you can do about next week. But there's no limit to what you can do to affect the world 25 years from now. The lever that allows you to move the world is time." — Grover Norquist

This is an interview listeners of my podcast have been asking for since the first episode.

Grover Norquist is the head of Americans for Tax Reform, the creator of the "no new taxes" pledge that virtually every Republican officeholder has signed, and the founder of the Wednesday meetings that bring together basically every group of note on the American right. Newt Gingrich has called him "the single most effective conservative activist in the country." MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell called him "the most powerful man in America who does not sleep in the White House."

You may disagree with Norquist's politics, or think that his "no tax" policy has put a straitjacket on the Republican Party. But even if you do, that makes it more — not less — important to try to understand how he thinks about influencing the American political system.

I recently sat down with Norquist for a little more than an hour for the latest episode of The Ezra Klein Show. (You can listen to our discussion by subscribing to my podcast or streaming it on SoundCloud.) Among the topics we touched on:

  • How Norquist came up with his "no tax" pledge as a 12-year-old coming home on the bus
  • Norquist's time in Angola and Mozambique helping anti-communist rebels
  • Whether the rise of Donald Trump shows the Republican base isn’t quite as committed to small government and low taxes as conservatives hoped.
  • Why Norquist thinks Silicon Valley will eventually turn Republican, and what he's doing to make it happen
  • The maximum percentage of GDP that the US government can spend effectively, according to Norquist
  • That time Norquist did standup comedy at Burning Man
  • What books he recommends, including Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds by Charles Mackay

A big thanks to Norquist for taking so much time for this conversation. And for more podcast conversations — including episodes with Rachel Maddow, Bill Gates, political scientist Theda Skocpol, US Sen. Cory Booker, restaurateur David Chang, and conservative activist Michael Needham — subscribe to The Ezra Klein Show.

As always, if you’re enjoying this podcast, please share it with your friends, put it on the Twitters, on Facebook, email it around — it means a lot to me, and it does a lot to help the show.

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