RWN’s Dick Armey Interview #2: “Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto”
Armey, who’s a former Republican House Majority Leader, is out there making the rounds to promote the book. When I had an opportunity to interview him again (first interview here), I was happy to do it. Incidentally, I’ve actually met Dick Armey once before, when I did a speech for FreedomWorks in Raleigh. He’s a really, really nice guy behind-the-scenes. Hopefully, I’ll run into him again at the FreedomWorks Blog Con event in D.C. next month.
Now, here’s the slightly edited transcript of our conversation,
You recently popped off a quote that’s gotten some attention. You said,
The Tea Party Movement is not seeking a junior partnership with the Republican Party, but a hostile takeover of it.
That reminds me a little bit of MoveOn’s famous quote about the Democrats.
Now it’s our party. We bought it. We own it. And we’re going to take it back.
It also brings up an important question that’s frequently asked. Conservatives are a large majority in the Republican Party. We also supply most of the money, the ideas, and the manpower. So why do conservatives, and by extension the Tea Party, need a hostile takeover? Why are we not already in control?
Well, the fact of the matter is we’ve gone through a period of pretty bitter disappointment with the Republicans in office — the sort of established Republicans who reside more in Washington, D.C. than in America. They got into some bad big spending ways, got careless with some legislation, like for example, Medicare Part D and so forth….
…We’ve got to get (The Republican Party) back on its feet, return it to being once again the party of constitutionally limited small government. …We expect that we will find people like that more often running as Republicans than Democrats. …So we will exercise our influence and our attention on the rehabilitation of the Republican Party. But it’s very important for the Republicans to understand while they might have a chance of winning the majority back with our help, they’re not going to get that help if they don’t convince us they’ve got an enduring commitment to the principles of small government discipline that were given to us by the Constitution…
Dick, let me ask you a follow-up to something you just said there. Let’s say theoretically that we help these Republicans get in, they take back the House, maybe they take back the Senate — or they get close. Let’s say we have a great year and suddenly, they go back to doing the same sort of thing they were doing in the Bush years. They start talking a good game on spending, but they don’t walk the talk. What do you think happens with the Tea Party movement? Do they turn on the Republican Party?
No, but what you will see is the activists say, “Look, you know our guy or our gal is letting us down. Let’s take a look around.” Do we have somebody in this community we’d like to see run as a primary opponent to them in the next election? And can we rally around that candidacy and make it happen?
The fact of the matter is if you fail in doing your duty to the oath that you swear when you’re given the privilege by your neighbors of being a member of Congress or governor or a state legislator, be prepared to see yourself challenged by one of your neighbors who’s bitterly disappointed in your malfeasance in office. And be prepared to see that challenge supported by tea parties’ activists who are going to continue to stay on the ground, stay active, stay observant, stay vigilant and stay committed.
So what we’re saying to Republicans is, “Look, we’re willing to work with you if you want to do good service for this country. We’re willing to support you, applaud you and work for your re-election if you continue that good work. But once you start drinking backsliders’ wine, just remember, we’re going to be there with the cure.”
Now, I’ve spoken at a couple of Tea Parties, attended Tea Parties, and I know a lot of people who love the Tea Party movement. The general consensus among a lot of them is that many, but not all, Republicans in Congress view grassroots conservatives as sort of vulgar no-nothings that they grudgingly have to throw a bone to once in a while. Now you’ve been on the inside in Congress. Is there any truth to that? Is that how a lot of these….
Oh, yes, there is. You can see the attitudes. I mean, I was absolutely stunned when I saw the statement by Trent Lott the other day, — that when these Tea Party candidates get to Washington, they’ve got to co-op them as quickly as possible because we don’t need a lot of new Jim DeMints now…
Well, the Tea Party activists across the country find Jim DeMint to be one of the most trustworthy office holders in the country. We want more people that will be as reliable as Jim DeMint and we’re offended by Trent Lott. I don’t think Trent Lott did himself much good service by that sort of display. His attitude is, “I’m the knowledgeable insider and we’ve got to take care of these oafs that are coming to town.”
That attitude cannot be sustained against an active hard working, committed group of people who understand what’s going on. First of all, I would say that more often than not, you will find that these members of Congress who have this disdainful attitude towards activists are themselves in fact less well informed on the critical issues than the activists themselves. The activists out there right now understand that the folks they’re sitting down with in a meeting get the discipline of economics and how it impacts our country better than the President — and that’s not acceptable.
Here’s another question I’d love to see you take a crack at. Where do you see the Tea Party movement in 10 years? Has it dissipated? Has it been absorbed into the Republican Party? Has it taken over the Republican Party? Where do you see it?
Well, it certainly won’t be dissipated. I think it will continue to be the governing influence over the behavior of Republicans in office and it’s going to be of institutional concern for Democrats.
In North Carolina, for example, you’ve got a perfect example. You’ve got a fellow up there in that northwest district, Heath Shuler. Heath Shuler’s going to have to decide, “Am I going to really be the guy I am getting away with pretending to be?” or, “Am I going to be in fact the guy that comes home to the Democrats’ progressive majority when the going gets tough?” Who’s going to own my vote in the final analysis on the tough votes? America, with its legitimate concerns for freedom and liberty and small government — or Nancy Pelosi with her plans for my next committee assignment? So Democrats are not going to be immune from the influence and the disciplining impact of the Tea Party activists that reside in their congressional district. Republicans will be more governed by it because Republicans can have a leadership that not only tolerates their devotion to the Constitution, but facilitates it.
So it will have a larger influence over the Republican Party than the Democrat Party, but it will have an influence over some Democrats — and I’d be willing to bet that 10 years from now, in northwestern North Carolina, the grassroots activists and the Tea Party activists will be strong and influential. By then Heath Shuler will either be out of office or will have changed over to the Republican Party.
Last question: Tea Parties say they’re out to protect America’s future. That’s what is inspiring a lot of them to come out because they’re worried their kids are not going to grow up in a country that’s as good as the one they grew up in. Yet Tea Partiers also tend to be older crowds. Why are there not more young people at the Tea Parties since a lot of it is about protecting their future?
Well, first of all you know the young people generally are well off, they’re in college, and they don’t really feel the full responsibilities of their adulthood. They can afford to be romantic. In fact, that’s a wonderful time in your life to be romantic — and liberalism is all about romanticism. So, they’re still kind of enjoying their playful, irresponsible freedom years. But, the youth movement within the Tea Party movement is growing with enormous enthusiasm.
Dick, I really appreciate your time.