Richard Keith "Dick Armey" is a former U.S. Representative (R Texas, 1985-2003) and the current chairman of conservative nonprofit group FreedomWorks. Along with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, he helped author the "Contract with America" that ushered in major Republican victories in the 1994 midterm elections. He subsequently served as House Majority Leader from 1995 through 2003. In his chairmanship with FreedomWorks, Armey has been an instrumental supporter of the nationwide "Tea Party" protests that began in early 2009. He is the author of several books on politics and economics, including "The Freedom Revolution" and "Armey's Axioms."
Question: Do you see a strong leader emerging within the GOP?
Dick Armey: Well, there are a great many opportunities for that leader to emerge. And by the way, when the Republican Party has itself embraced this concept, it has prospered with the voting electorate.
Well, I think right now, for example, Sarah Palin is a possibility, although you have to understand, in politics, which is about 50% personality contest, or beauty contest, or talent contest, people of deep substance can be at a disadvantage. But Sarah Palin's out there, certainly Governor Pawlenty is a very attractive option out there, Governor Romney, Governor Haley Barber from Mississippi. There are a great many people that can possibly emerge as leader. But they cannot win the embrace of these folks unless they show a deep-seated commitment to the conservative, small government principles.
I'll give you an example. George Herbert Walker Bush, before you were born, won the Presidency, which was in effect, Ronald Reagan winning a third term. He quickly became a bitter disappointment to this same block of voters when he raised taxes in 1990 in violation of his tax pledge of 1988; that "Read my lips. No new taxes." He lost his Presidency, his chance for a second term when he raised those taxes in the fall of '90. That created this large of group of disappointed voters who what? They went to Ross Perot.
Now everybody said, well Ross Perot came in as a spoiler and took George Bush's winning chance away, but that's not true at all. Those voters were made available to Ross Perot by George Bush in 1990. So, bang, they were left with that. Then there was the confusion that had Clinton – all of a sudden, these same voters are reawakened by the Contract and they come back to the Republican Party and supported the Contract. Now what you see is those same voters got disillusioned with everybody and stayed home. Barack Obama wins the election and then the next election, which you are going to see is a reawakening of these voters on behalf of the Republican Party if the Republican Party can once again comprehend it and come home to these voters. They can win a lot of elections with these folks.
Question: Can Palin ever unite and not divide voters?
Dick Armey: Yeah. First of all, I feel bad for Sarah Palin. First thing you've got to understand about Sarah Palin is she is her own person and she made her position in life on her own terms. She wasn't somebody's wife, she wasn't somebody’s daughter, she got out, and she won the governorship of Alaska – no small task all on her own with nothing paving the way for her. So, in some respects, she's everything that Hillary Clinton pretends to be: an independent woman making her own way on her own terms.
Now, her problem was, she became a Vice Presidential candidate. This is a fatal place to be. Now what happens, we saw the same thing years ago with Dan Quayle. As soon you become the Vice Presidential candidate, a new attractive face on the block, and you have a great success like her first acceptance speech at the convention. The Presidential candidate's staff begins to sabotage you. Because the last thing they want is the new Vice Presidential candidate to outshine their guy.
So, she was subjected to all of the difficulties that naturally befall in politics; which is a curious form of juvenile delinquency – so she got battered pretty badly. She has to come back from that and make her own way again on her own terms and not be – and I don't know whether it will be possible for her to do so. She is so demonized by so many different forces; it’s very hard to come back from that. Right now, the fashionable thing is to be intellectually and morally superior than those Palin supporters, and fashionableness has a lot of influence over people's behavior politically.
Governor Pawlenty, for example, has a chance to make a fresh new start without that difficulty that she had to experience. I think the new fresh face – this is another thing, nobody can look at Pawlenty and say, "Well, you were a part of that gang that broke our heart just a few years ago." So, he's got a great opportunity to make a good start. I don't know what happens with Mitt Romney. One of the problems in politics is they're so shallow and short-sighted. If you didn't win four years ago, it is presumed that you can't possibly be the guy that can win now. I guess they forget Ronald Reagan losing in '76 and coming back and winning in '80.
So, there are a lot of people, but they're going to have to make a new and hard revival of their standing with people and they can do that within this context of the new energy in the politics in America, the dominant energy in politics in America is a small government, conservative movement.
Recorded on November 11, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen