In the discussion of congressional attempts to broker an agreement to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff, one man's name continually comes up: Grover Norquist.
Norquist, the president of Americans for Tax Reform, has left an indelible mark on the public budget debate. 219 members of the House of Representatives and 39 Senators signed the Federal Taxpayer Protection Pledge, vowing to oppose tax increases. In recent days, Republican politicians have announced their intention to stray from the pledge. Despite the defections, few politicians can claim to have influenced the tenor of the debates to the same degree as Norquist.
In fact, the level of influence of several prominent conservatives who have never held public office have helped to shape the federal legislative agenda in ways that an elected representative could only aspire.
Here are the top nine conservatives who have impacted Republican politics, each of whom reflects a different facet of the party.
1) Phyllis Schlafly
A conservative activist, Schlafly helped defeat the Equal Rights Amendment, arguing that its passage would require women to register for the draft.
2) Andrew Breitbart
The deceased conservative blogger helped pioneer the use of new media to influence politics. Not only did Breitbart write for the Drudge Report, he also assisted in the launch of the Huffington Post. Breitbart ushered in a new era of conservative journalism, breaking several stories that brought down prominent Democrats, including suggestive tweets from Rep. Anthony Weiner.
3) Paul Wolfowitz
A neoconservative and Bush foreign policy advisor, Wolfowitz crafted the most controversial U.S. military strategy in a generation. Wolfowitz lost many family members to the Holocaust and that experience shaped his foreign policy views. Wolfowitz pushed the Bush administration to adopt an aggressive strategy against antidemocratic tyrants, most notably Saddam Hussein.
4) William F. Buckley, Jr.
The famed conservative writer and founder of the National Review re-defined conservatism to include fiscal restraint, individual freedom, and family values. In many ways, he charted a middle ground between Ayn Rand individualists and Republicans focused on promoting Christian values through public policy. Provocative and prolific, he served as the mouthpiece for conservatism for over three decades.
5) James Dobson
The former head of the conservative faith organization Focus on the Family, galvanized evangelical voters to assert their political weight in Washington. Vigorously pro-life and anti-gay marriage, Dobson mobilized Christian voters to oppose politicians that didn't share this perspective.
6) Alan Greenspan
The famously laissez-faire former head of the Fed was a conservative hero. He kept rates low and refused to intervene to slow down the housing bubble. Before the financial crisis, he was heralded as a hero by conservatives for his anti-regulation, pro-market stance.
7) Jerry Falwell
The pastor founded the Moral Majority in the 1970s as a counterweight to what he perceived as the amoral cultural shift that occurred in the 1960s. A staunch proponent of traditional family values, Falwell used his pulpit to stump for Republican candidates who shared his views. He also founded Liberty University, an evangelical Christian college dedicated to moulding leaders. A less auspicious achievement is his purported discovery that one of the Teletubbies was designed to be a homosexual role model.
8) Glenn Beck
The former Fox host channeled Tea Party anger into a formidable voice of the Republican Party. He decried liberal conspiracies and organized a rally on the mall to "Restore America" to its founding principles.
9) Milton Friedman
The famous economist has hugely influenced conservatives, particularly as Republicans struggle to devise an economic recovery plan in the wake of the financial crisis. Friedman's scholarship, which supports unfettered markets, has been used as a counterweight to the Keynesian of the Democrats, who wish to use deficit spending to emerge from the crisis.