As referenced in my previous post, Pat Shortridge said that his career working for former House Majority Leader Dick Armey credentialed him as a real conservative. Armey clearly had sufficient credentials to be elected as a Republican, but did he really support limited government?
Shortridge, running for chair of the Minnesota Republican Prty, said that he worked for Dick Armey for over 10 years, and wrote the following of his time with Armey’s office:
I saw the good things that happen when Republicans work effectively on behalf of their principles. We spent that decade revolutionizing both the Republican Party and then the United States. We beat back a Republican establishment who had lost the will to fight for our principles, especially in the US House.
Now let’s look at some history.
In 1994, Republicans’ Contract with America included a pledge to vote on a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and a provision requiring that all tax increases be approved by a three-fifths vote of both the House and Senate. Majority Leader Dick Armey pledged to the freshman class of (more conservative) Republicans to include both in a single piece of legislation. Unfortunately, more moderate Republicans (and some Democrats) only wanted to vote for the balanced budget amendment, because it was popular. But they still wanted to be able to raise taxes without a hassle, and did not want to vote for the three-fifths provision.
Without telling anyone, Armey took thethree-fifths provision out of the legislation. When they discovered what was happening, the conservative freshmen broke away. Reps. Mark Souder and John Shadegg led an effort to drive votes away from the balanced budget amendment if the three-fifths provision was not included; in the end, 40 conservative congressmen said they would refuse to support Armey’s move. John Shadegg at least wanted to vote on both measures at once, allow them to fail, and then vote on them individually.
Armey refused to go along with this, because it would have quickly exposed Republicans who didn’t support the Contract with America.
“We were shocked to learn they were so quick to cut the compromise. We didn’t want to begin the process by compromising,” Shadegg said in retrospect.
In order to get enough votes to keep conservatives with the Republicans on the balanced budget amendment, Speaker Newt Gingrich & Majority Leader Armey promised they would still vote on the three-fifths amendment—in 1996, the next year.
Armey, in speaking to Linda Killian for her book “The Freshmen,” said, “You never compromise onprinciple, but you do on the details.” The freshmen congressmen had “such resolve they don’t understand the practical need to bend a little here and there to serve principle.”
When Congressman Steve Largent challenged Dick Armey for the post of majority leader in 1998, conservatives who are more well-known in our present day largely supported Largent.
Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma,then a member of the House, said in Largent’s support, "I love Dick Armey. He's a very dear friend of mine. But when it came to standing up to Newt Gingrich, he failed us... The last two years the leadership has cowered in fear.”
(To briefly go on a noteworthy tangent, then-congressman and present-day child molester Mark Foley disagreed with the overall mentality of the freshmen, saying, “‘Compromise’ might be a dirty word, but it’s still the only word that works.”)
Others are downright disdainful of Armey. Then-Rep. Joe Scarborough refers to him as “Dick Armey (R-Whiskey Gulch),” and in his 2004 memoir Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day blamed Armey for the suicide of Fox anchor Brit Hume’s son and in part for the derailment of the 1994 Republican Revolution.
When Armey learned through Hume’s reporting that Congressman Bill Paxon, not Armey, was to be many congressmen’s favored nominee to challenge Speaker Newt Gingrich, Armey turned on the movement, according to Scarborough, and began a rumor that Hume was having a gay affair with Paxon.
Scarborough wrote, “I sat at my desk, rage growing by the second toward… Dick Armey, and the sleazy business of politics... Everyone knew Armey's staff was lying.”
In sum, did Dick Armey get some votes right during his eighteen-year career in Congress? Sure. Did he beat back the Republican establishment? No. He was part of it.