Shadegg warns House GOP newcomers: Don’t ‘betray’ grassroots like we did

Jon Ward Contributor
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If the Tea Party movement had come along four years ago, John Shadegg might now be the incoming Speaker of the House.

The Arizona Republican ran for majority leader in 2006 but was beaten by John Boehner, the Ohio Republican who has been minority leader since the fall of 2006 and is now set to take the gavel from Democrat Nancy Pelosi in one week’s time.

Shadegg, who in 2006 was the choice of National Review magazine and the conservative blog Redstate, is going home to Arizona. He decided to retire after 16 years in office.

Shadegg, 61, has a unique perspective on conservative Republican politics. He came to Washington as part of the Republican Revolution of 1994 that swept the GOP into control of the House for the first time since 1954.

He also has a connection to the first 20th century wave of conservatism. Shadegg’s father, Stephen Shadegg, was a close aide and political adviser to former Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, the Republican nominee for president in 1964. Stephen Shadegg ran Goldwater’s 1952 and 1958 Senate campaigns, but played a lesser role in Goldwater’s presidential run.

The Daily Caller sat down with Shadegg recently to glean any clues on how the Tea Party is different than past conservative waves.

Shadegg talked at length about the fact that the new Republican majority in the House is “on probation,” and said the reason that there is no leader of the Tea Party is because grassroots conservatives are gun shy after being “betrayed” by the House Republicans who took office in 1994.

“When the Gingrich revolution happened, the Gingrich revolution collapsed. It had betrayed its supporters,” Shadegg said. “So now I think there’s a reticence for a movement to arise under the Tea Party with a leader because nobody trusts a leader.”

Below is a partial transcript of the interview:

TheDC: Your father was involved with Goldwater – what’s similar between then and now in your mind?

REP. JOHN SHADEGG: Well, let me just make some comments. If my dad were alive and sitting here today, he would tell you that John Kennedy’s assassination essentially ended the Goldwater campaign. He wrote a book called “What Happened to Goldwater?” Basically, I think Sen. Goldwater concluded, many thoughtful conservatives concluded, and my dad concluded, that the nation was not going to change presidents three times in the span of less than a year. So when Kennedy was assassinated and Johnson became president, while Goldwater could not not run, they knew they weren’t going to win. And I think there’s a fair amount in “What happened to Goldwater?” about the fact that Barry was looking forward to running against John F. Kennedy. Kennedy was a philosophical liberal of the day, and Goldwater was the conservative, and they were admired and respected each other. And I think they thought they were going to have substantive debates. I think there were actually even preliminary discussions, at least I had heard there were preliminary discussions – this is probably in the book and I’ve just forgotten it – of them taking the same plane and going to places and debating, Goldwater and Kennedy. So when Kennedy was assassinated, although the movement went forward and the campaign went forward, the tone and the tenor of everything changed dramatically and there was a belief that it wasn’t going to be a debate on the issues, which they had thought was going to occur with Kennedy. As for the parallels,…

TheDC: And Johnson appealed much more to the South.

SHADEGG: Oh, right. Yeah. Johnson was just a very different guy than Kennedy. As for the parallels, I think there are striking parallels between similarities and dissimilarities between ’94 and now… [interrupted by ringing phone]. And I guess there are parallels, as well, to ’64. I think, in each instance, the nation was debating the big-picture direction of the country. Are we going to permanently abandon small government? Do we think we’ve lost track of where we intended to be as a nation?

You go back and read any of the pre-1964 Goldwater books, including “Conscience of a Conservative,” which was a compilation of a number of speeches Goldwater made. He was raising the issue of whether or not the nation, in fact, would benefit by a massive expansion of the federal government – which had begun, where it was involved in all kinds of things that, one can argue, the Founding Fathers didn’t intend, and was straying from their vision of a limited federal government with lots of authority remaining in the states – versus returning to the the Founders’ original intent. And I think in each instance – in ’64, and ’94, and, to a certain degree, 2010 – you see the same debate surfacing and you see a kind of a – I’m going to use the word “populist” – but you see a populist movement where people are saying, “Hey, we are watching what the federal government is doing. It seems to us to be moving in a direction that is not consistent with the Founders’ vision and we don’t believe that that’s working. We don’t believe a massive federal government appears to be able to do things well.” And I do think there is a strong parallel in each instance between those three. And I do think that there might be a slight difference – and maybe you can focus my answers by asking some more questions on it – but, because of the assassination of Kennedy, I would argue that the Goldwater election was dissimilar from the ’94 election because Goldwater couldn’t win and mostly what he did was lay the foundation for Reagan.

Then Reagan came along and put the question to the people and the people said, “Yeah, we want a smaller federal government. We want a federal government that does not arrogate, unto itself, all known power.” So, in that sense, ’64 had to be combined with Reagan’s election to see what happened. Then ’94 happened and, at least from my perception, Republicans won, the people said, “Yes, this is what we want,” and then they strayed. They, meaning the Congress.

TheDC: Are you talking about Reagan or ’94?

SHADEGG: I’m talking about ’94. The Gingrich revolution had all the same philosophical grounding, because Gingrich laid it out there, and then they confronted Clinton. And, quite frankly, Clinton and the old bulls in Congress deflated the revolution. In ’95, ’96, ’97, we cut spending – and I think you can go back and look at federal spending cuts at least in ’95 and ’96. By 2005, Tom DeLay stood up and said, “Look, we’ve cut spending as much as it can be cut,” which was ridiculous. But I think that revolution collapsed because the old bulls in Washington… instead of changing Washington, they let Washington change the freshman class.

And now, what I think might be interesting in a book is, what happens to this class? Does this class get turned by Washington? Does the class change or does this class actually change Washington? I personally think that’s the $64,000 question. That’s the issue. The Tea Party movement has, I think, raised the issue again. It’s now elected a huge freshman class of Republicans who are saying, “We can’t continue to spend money we don’t have.” And the question is: will that class have the strength to withstand the pressures in this town to go native? I think there’s phenomenal pressure in this town to go along to get along. Candidates campaign saying, “I’m for smaller government, I’m for lower spending, I’m for lower taxes, I’m for less regulation, I’m for returning authority to the states,” and voters elect them. The Tea Party movement selected those kind of candidates. Then the candidates get here to Washington and discover that, to advance their careers in Washington, they’ve got to become reliable votes and they’ve got to go along to get along for the older bulls inside the institution. And typically…

TheDC: You need kamikazes, essentially…

: That’s right. You really need people who say, “I am singularly focused on keeping my promises and, even if that hurts my career,” – kamikazes, your term – “even if that appears to hurt my career in Washington, it will advance my career with the people who sent me here, and therefore I’m going to do what they want.” And that then turns out to be the real challenge. It’s the challenge that the class of ’94, I think, failed.

The class of ’94 made all these promises, got here… it turned out that a lot of the leaders that led them in making those promises – Newt, Dick, Tom – enjoyed pulling the levers of power and turned out not to be so keen on revolution, were willing to spend, knuckled under to earmarks. For example, Newt started using earmarks and they exploded under Republicans. And then the next thing you know, the whole notion of changing the way Washington works kind of went to the side and we started doing the things Washington had done before. The Contract With America, for example, said that Republicans were going to restore the “bonds of trust” between the American people and the United States Congress. That’s an explicit promise, right in the Contract With America. Well, how do you square that with Duke Cunningham, Bob Ney, and… who’s the lobbyist?

TheDC: Abramoff.

SHADEGG: Well, it makes that point that we didn’t restore the bonds of trust.

TheDC: It seems to me that, if the freshman class is not going to get turned, a lot of that will depend on – I mean, certainly you will have some who are principled, some will have stiff spines and some who don’t – but a lot of how big those categories are, it seems like, depends on how much momentum is sustained at the grassroots level.

SHADEGG: I think you just absolutely nailed it. If the Tea Party movement concludes that Election Day was the end, then this is over. The class will turn and Washington will remain Washington. They will not change this institution. If the Tea Party understands – and I’ve made this remark in a number of speeches, did it in New York before the election – if the Tea Party movement or conservatives across America understand that election day was day one. That now that the election is over, now is when the pressure has to be greater than ever. They have to watch every vote. They have to greet the freshman Congressmen when they’re getting on the plane to go back to Washington and greet them when they’re getting off the plane coming home. And say to them, “Hey, remember us…”

TheDC: Are you speaking literally? At the airport?

SHADEGG: I think literally, in some instances, when they see a tough vote coming up. The extension of the debt ceiling … One of the ways this system works back here is people get back here and they want to advance on the inside, which means they’ve got to please the old bulls that are here and want them to be reasonable. The other thing that happens is it takes a lot of money to get re-elected, and so all the young freshmen say, “I want the speaker to come to my fundraiser,” or, “I want my committee chairman to come to my fundraiser,” or, “I want this committee seat.” So now they’re put into a position where they’re asking, asking, asking. Well, the more they have to ask, the more supplicant they become – the more they have to say yes to those people.

On the other hand, if the Tea Party movement were creating a support mechanism back home, saying, “We’ll help you raise money. We’ll do the grassroots work. If you keep your promises, we’ll do our part to get you re-elected.” But, in part,… the freshmen don’t know what they’re up against and, in that sense, the Tea Party people don’t understand what these freshmen are up against. So there’s the issue of, if they don’t see what is about to happen to the freshmen, then they don’t know how they can help them. Each of the movements – you look back at ’64 and then Reagan, and then ’94 and then now – a lot of it is: do the people at the grassroots level understand the pressures that a congressman goes under when he gets here or a senator undergoes when he gets here and are they doing the right things back home? I suppose that then goes to what was the success of Reagan. And Reagan was able to sustain, as president, the sentiment of the nation that “look, we’re going to do things differently.” Whereas, in ’94, Newt couldn’t sustain it.

TheDC: Part of it has to do with the bully pulpit, probably?

SHADEGG: Yeah. Sure. You’re the president. He would go to the TV and start talking common sense and people would say, “Yeah, I agree with that.” Here’s a guy that accomplished a huge amount of conservative reform with a Democratic Congress because it was all common sense. It was stuff that people were responding to.

TheDC: I want to go back to the idea of what’s driving the Tea Party versus what happened in ’64 … One thing that is striking about Goldwater is that so much of his support was from young people. That’s a constituency that is not part of the Tea Party. I mean, there is some awareness of debt and deficit growing…

SHADEGG: It’s definitely growing because they’re seeing that what we’re doing here is we’re passing these problems here onto the next generation. One of the things about Goldwater – I don’t know if in the presidential race this was true, but I do think it was true to some degree – I think there is kind of an undercurrent here… well, one issue is philosophy: big government, little government, powerful central government, diffuse state governments. Another issue is standard politicians will say whatever they think you want to hear. Goldwater was different than that. Goldwater would tell it like it was.

TheDC: What about the breadth of Goldwater’s support compared to now? The way I think of the Tea Party now is that it started off in early ’09 because of a combination of the crisis, the bailouts, and Obama. And, as sustained high joblessness has not gone away, I think they’ve accrued other more malcontents and the movement’s gotten broader and a little less focused at times. I’m just wondering, was the Goldwater movement… [security announcement]

SHADEGG: I don’t know if this answers your question, but we’ve talked about similarities and dissimilarities. The conservative revolution of ’64 was led by a person, Barry Goldwater. Now, there were others. But Goldwater stood up, challenged the establishment of the Republican party, challenged Rockefeller, laid out ideas that mainly Buckley had been writing about, National Review surfacing. Reagan was a leader as well. I think that makes a parallel then to Newt, who was a leader. But I think it shows that, in a way… the Tea Party movement is different. They are very proud that it’s not structured, it is not top-down. There is no national leader. There is no person they’re pointing to.

Quite frankly, I think the reason for that is two things. One, obviously nobody has emerged. So it’s not like Goldwater. There is no Goldwater at the moment. There is no Reagan at the moment. But the second thing about that is… well, two things. One, can a movement like the Tea Party survive without a leader? Without a Goldwater, a Reagan, or a Gingrich – and I think that’s a genuine question. Then, I think, the issue is also raised: well, why isn’t there a leader? And a part of that, I think, is this distrust.

At the time of Goldwater and at the time of Reagan, no Republican leader in recent history – and this is my own perspective – had severely disappointed the body politic. So they were willing to follow a Goldwater; they were willing to follow a Reagan. When the Gingrich revolution happened, the Gingrich revolution collapsed. It had betrayed its supporters. So now I think there’s a reticence for a movement to arise under the Tea Party with a leader because nobody trusts a leader. The truth is, and this is another new challenge for this new Congress, it’s said frequently: these people are on probation. The new Republican House and the more-Republican Senate, produced by the 2010 election, are on probation because, in 1994, nobody remembered them betraying or failing. The last time Republicans had power was 40 years earlier. Now, in 2010, lots of people say, “Yeah, I want conservatives again but these guys ran in ’94 and told us they were going to change things and they didn’t. Instead of changing Washington, they let Washington change them.”

So, for that reason, I think that is a significant difference between the Tea Party movement and either the ’64/Reagan or ’94 episodes. Because, right now, people are saying, “We want a smaller government – we want a government that’s more responsible that doesn’t waste money – but there’s nobody out there we’re willing to give unqualified trust to,” and there’s nobody leading it.

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