National Press Club

Former GOP Leader Chides Republicans as Straying from Conservatism

March 15, 2010 | By Ken Dalecki |

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Activists in the conservative Tea Party movement are not wedded to the Republican Party but view it as their best hope for restoring fiscal restraint, smaller government and free market principles in Washington, FreedomWorks Chairman Dick Armey told a Luncheon audience March 15.

Armey, who holds a doctorate degree in economics and spent 18 years as a Republican in Congress until retiring in 2003, had some harsh words for the GOP and a few kind ones for Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

He chided Republicans for having strayed from conservative principles to the point where Tea Party activists correctly question their new-found vows to return to Reagan principles.

As for Pelosi, he said he likes her personally and that "she's not as mean as people think she is." He added, however, that "I didn't think anyone could rise to the speakership and be so inept."

Armey said Pelosi and her Senate counterpart, Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., "lack administrative skills."

He cited their on-going struggles to pass health care legislation and predicted that Democrats would "get bounced" if they pass a bill that he said would destroy the best health care system in the world.

Quoting the late country singer and songwriter Waylon '"Wailin'" Jennings, Armey said "there's no right way to do the wrong thing."

He predicted a Republican takeover of the House after elections this year and of the Senate this year or in 2012.

The former Texas congressman said Tea Party activists are not part of a third party movement but are supporting conservative primary candidates in the GOP because they have nowhere else to go.

He said they found his FreedomWorks foundation through the internet because they share the same values of a smaller, less intrusive government dedicated to principles espoused by the Founding Fathers.

Unlike prior conservative waves beginning with the candidacy of Sen. Barry Goldwater in 1964, Armey predicted the Tea Party movement will endure because internet connections will make them activists "at the ready" if conservative officeholders stray from their principles as the GOP did when it held the majority in Congress.

Armey said Tea Party activists are "ordinary people expressing their concerns for their country."

Many are "readers of the Federalist Papers" who admire the Founding Fathers as divinely inspired "geniuses" who took every word in the Constitution seriously. He said they fear that President Obama and congressional Democrats "do not cherish America the way we do."

The Tea Party tent includes Libertarians, evangelicals and a few crazies akin to a relative at Thanksgiving dinner, he said.

They are "a great big swing vote" that is "against Democrats but not sure about the reliability of Republicans," he said, adding that "right now, pathetic as it is, Republicans are the best we got."

The former House majority leader was critical of Republicans for not being more sympathetic toward Hispanic immigrants, whom he called their "most natural constituency" for sharing many of their conservative values.

"America is not a country that builds walls; it opens doors," he said. He called for an overhaul of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which he called "mean and rude and callous" in its treatment of immigrants.

On April 15 the Tea Party movement will offer a "Contract From America" espousing conservative principles it will ask candidates to endorse. Armey predicted that the news media will minimize the turnout in its reporting.

Armey joked about the National Press Club mug presented to all luncheon speakers. Holding it high, he declared "these things are great for target practice!"