How Dick Armey Could Shape the Next Congress

Dick Armey is one of the big winners of 2010.

And even more than other big winners, the former Republican House majority leader wakes up after the midterm elections in a unique role as potential advisor and power broker.

His group FreedomWorks, which specializes in organizing a conservative citizenry into political action around an anti-tax, free-market agenda, helped foment the Tea Party movement and in doing so has enjoyed a broad success, which we all saw on Election Night: a Republican Party that's been steered drastically to the right, bent on opposition to taxes, health care subsidies, financial regulation, and the federal deficit--a party that's been steered toward electoral success in this direction change, and all with the populist flavor that Armey seems generally to enjoy.

Around 11:30 on Tuesday night, he was indeed enjoying himself as he saw his pet political currents crescendo into a GOP takeover of the House.

"We've seen this coming for a long time. It's hard work by a lot of people all over the country and a lot of commitment to the cause of good government and fiscal responsibility," he said over a speakerphone, a party audible in the background at FreedomWorks headquarters in a big, semi-luxurious office complex on Pennsylvania Ave.

"Hard work beat daddy's money," he says.

Which is a bit of a knife-twist: Democrats have complained for months on end about the massive quantities of independent money that have gushed into U.S. politics during the 2010 elections, much of it going to help Republicans, some of it to help the same candidates FreedomWorks has endorsed. And the Tea Party movement, they say, is a false construct propped up by rich guys and corporate accusation which points the finger at FreedomWorks along with the billionaire-funded Americans for Prosperity.

Armey is now positioned to serve as advisor both to the new crowd of Tea Party lawmakers who handed Republicans their big victory on Tuesday night and to the GOP House leaders who will work with them.

"I'll be working with almost every one of these new members," he tells me.

As a former House majority leader with a knowledge of Congress and its dynamics, and as a bona fide leader in the Tea Party movement who has helped organize rallies and train activists in political and organizing tactics since early 2009, he's as likely as anyone to succeed as mediator between the ambitious newcomers, with their anti-Washington attitudes and ideals of drastic change, and the GOP leaders, namely Speaker-to-be John Boehner and likely Majority Leader Eric Cantor, who are responsible for working the parliamentary levers and playing inside Washington politics to the GOP's edge.

"I think they'll get along just fine," Armey says. "We went through this in '92 and '94. We had to beat the old fogeys in the party before we could beat the we started with the first 100 days there was a lot of grumbling with the old bulls in the party" until they realized the new members were onto something.

The question of the new Congress will be: Can House Republicans and President Obama find compromise? Or, phrased more skeptically toward the Tea Partiers and more generously toward the president: Can the Tea Partiers make compromises on their principled opposition to spending and taxes, when it comes to passing entitlements and Defense budgets and reducing deficits?

Armey's answer: It's not the Republicans' problem. It's up to Obama to take a lesson from President Clinton and tack to the center.

"President Clinton was adaptable, and we ended up working with him on a number of things," Armey says. "I don't think President Obama is either intellectually or emotionally capable of being that flexible."

Obama, meanwhile, will have to choose which Clintonian lesson he'll take. He can reach compromises with a Republican House, or he can use them as a foil. Both seemed to work for Clinton.

Armey's advice to Republican leaders, as the new GOP House conference gathers in expanded and markedly different form, is to listen to the new members.

"I would say be respectful and confident," Armey says. "If you take your conference in the right direction, your conference will go with you."

His advice for the new Tea Party members: "You'd be amazed at how much you will prosper if you just have a kind and pleasant demeanor."

When following the new GOP majority, keep an eye out for geniality, folksiness, and adages about "bum steers" as signs of Armey's influence.