In an interview with CBS News, corporate lobbyist and FreedomWorks leader Dick Armey mused about the direction of the GOP and the future of the tea party movement that his group has cultivated. Armey extolled conservatives for having “clarity” in their positions, yet hedged on whether his strict conservative beliefs would mean fighting to abolish Medicare, Social Security, or other programs not explicitly authorized in the Constitution. “Let’s at least clear up the transgressions of the institutions that are there,” remarked Armey.
Repeatedly, Armey mentioned the name of Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R-MN) as someone who is “really leading the Republican Party these days.” Asked who has a “central stake” in touting “fiscal conservatism” and an ability to “limit government,” Armey again surprisingly named Pawlenty:
Q: You said that the central stake should be fiscal conservatism. But the Republican Party ran up trillions in deficits, spent hundreds of billions on TARP and a Wall Street bailout, bailed out GM, created the Department of Homeland Security and No Child Left Behind, and published about 700,000 new pages of federal regulations in eight years. Do Republicans have any credibility about claiming to limit government?
ARMEY: … I think Pawlenty is the person standing on the safest possible ground.
Armey, whose tea party movement is already shedding its non-partisan veneer to officially support Republican candidates, is attempting to “purify” Pawlenty’s record to make him more palatable to the base. But given that Pawlenty has violated so many tea party principles, Armey’s declaration of support is all the more perplexing:
– Pawlenty endorsed the Wall Street bailout package in 2008. Tea party groups often trace their interest in activism to the beginning of the bank bailouts.
– Pawlenty proposed his own cap and trade system and signed an ambitious law cutting carbon emissions. Tea party groups regularly deride both ideas as a “government takeover.”
– Pawlenty’s top economic adviser has toured his state, touting its success and the “tangible results from this funding.” Tea party groups angrily opposed the stimulus.
– In 2007, Pawlenty signed an anti-predatory mortgage law crafted in part by representatives from ACORN. Armey and other tea party leaders have attacked similar laws on the national level as “unnecessary regulation” and that the free market should “address concerns about sub-prime mortgages.” In addition, ACORN is one of the leading bogeyman of the tea party movement.
Hate radio talkers like Glenn Beck have jettisoned Pawlenty for his past transgressions, like pushing for cap and trade. To Beck, Pawlenty and other politicians who have supported the bailouts “sound like Democrats.”
But for veteran Republican leaders like Armey, Pawlenty is apparently worth purifying for the tea party base. Given Pawlenty’s short-lived attempt to purge Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME), he seems interested in morphing into a tea party candidate. And even though Armey claims Pawlenty is a break from Bush-era conservatism, Pawlenty has aggressively courted key Bush political operatives for his national campaign.