Are “Tea Parties” Overthrowing Conservatism?

Tea Party backer Dick Armey believes the movement that ousted a Republican Congressional candidate is actually resolving the party's “massive identity crisis.”
  • Transcript


Question: Is the “Tea Party” movement factionalizing the GOP?

Dick Armey: No. Not at all. I think a lot of people don't understand this at all. First of all, understand that in the state of New York there has been a very active Conservative Party for decades. It elected Senator Buckley in the 70's. And if you look at the history of Congressional races in New York and probably a lot of other races I've seen it through two Congressional races, the Conservative Party oftentimes nominates a person. Historically, they've been the good sports that have been willing to step back and throw their support to the Republicans in the interest of stopping a more liberal Democrat from getting into office.

Now what happened in New York 23rd, was a handful of people got into a backroom, and nominated a Democrat. And the first thing we heard, for example in my shop at Freedomworks, is from our grassroots activists in the north country in New York. They said, "The Republicans have just lost this race. This woman can't possibly win this race. She would not have won a Republican primary."

She was too liberal. There's no way she would have won a Republican primary.

So, what happened was, the Conservative Party said, "Oh, my gosh, the Republicans are about to lose this race." And they fielded a candidate. So, what happened was, there were three candidates from three different parties in the race, two liberals in the Republican and Democrat nominees, and one Conservative.

The Conservative candidate, although he was a first-time candidate, quite naive and innocent in the ways of politics, he grew so fast in his standing with the electorate, that she got knocked out of the race. Once she got knocked out of the race, what did she do? She made a deal with the White House and Chuck Schumer and endorsed the Democrat.

So, the first validation that I see in this is, our grassroots activists called that correctly, didn't they? They did in fact nominate a Democrat. And the Conservative Party failed to win that election.

Now, this is a short-term victory for the Republicans. They can celebrate it all they want because a year from now, the Democrats will lose that seat because the Republicans will have an open primary, they'll nominate a conservative Republican, or at least a middle of the road Republican, and that person will win the race back from the Democrat. So, that Democrat will only sit in that office for about a year.

And when that happens, the conservative party will once again play their role of being in support of their principles and working the Republican nominee a little bit more to their perspective on public policy and then helping him beat the Democrat.

Question: Was the candidate “too liberal” for the party fiscally or socially?

Dick Armey: No, that was a very – social issues were so much – I was up there. I mean, socialists were just simply not a part of the debate in that race. The Democrat candidate, when it was just the two of them in the race, the Democrat was running against her as a big spender. And so, her first transgression was, she was for big budgets, she was for cap and trade, she was for card check, the mandatory union plan that denied workers a secret ballot. On economic issues – and I saw no discussion of social issues in that race. On economic issues, she was so liberal that even the Democrat was running against her for being too liberal.

Question: How can the Tea Party movement help Republicans?

Dick Armey: Well, at some point, everybody who is seeking office, or wanting to hold office, at some point they have to respond to the voting constituency whose votes they want. And right now, the Republicans who are in office are kind of confused about that. This Tea Party Movement which is what you see right now is most visible at grassroots conservatism, is a thousand points of entrepreneurial light in advocating small government constructivism has popped up all over the country and it is the most genuine, largest grassroots movement I've ever seen on particularly the economic issues.

The officeholders are starting, "Oh, I get it. If I want to be reelected, I better be responsive to what these guys are telling me." That's what all the energy – there’s no greater source of energy in public policy discourse and politics today then the small government conservatives.

The orthodox Republican Party is dispirited and confused and going through a massive identity crisis where they're trying to basically ask the questions, "Who are we, and what are we doing here?" The Democrats are inflicted with probably the most severe case of buyer's remorse they've ever had, even worse than with the Clintons in '93 and '94, and they have no energy to bring to the field. So, the field is right now is dominated by the extremely big tent of small government conservatism, which has Democrats, Republicans, Independents, Libertarians, Evangelicals, people of all stripes and color and religious orientation, and they're all happily joined in resistance to a growth in the power of the state that they find frightening for their personal liberties.

Recorded on November 11, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen