HONOLULU | Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey has warned Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele that his plans to align the Republican Party with the "tea party" movement will fail unless Mr. Steele proves his bona fides on taxing-and-spending issues.
Mr. Armey told The Washington Times that he had told the chairman that if the Republican Party wants to earn the trust of skeptical tea partiers, it must show it is serious about "not lying to its voters" on those issues as it did in the George W. Bush administration.
Mr. Steele, regarded with suspicion by some RNC members, including some conservatives, has sought to address tea-party events and has called himself a "tea partier."
But Mr. Armey says he told Mr. Steele that he has not gained the trust of the movement, though he said one way to change that would be for Mr. Steele to drop his objections to two resolutions being proposed by the tea-party-friendly, 24-member National Republican Conservative Caucus during the four-day meeting of the Republican National Committee at a Waikiki Beach resort hotel.
"I could support both of the resolutions," said Mr. Armey, who also is chairman of FreedomWorks, which has helped organize many of the biggest tea-party protests.
The RNC's Resolutions Committee was scheduled to meet on the two resolutions Thursday and the full committee will act Friday.
One is tagged as the "accountability resolution." It would call on the RNC chairman to confirm that a House, Senate or gubernatorial candidate seeking money from the RNC has a predominantly free-market, small-government voting record.
The other is the so-called "Reagan resolution" that would require that a candidate agree with at least 80 percent of the Republican Party's core beliefs in order to get financial and campaign-management help from the RNC.
Mr. Armey also told Mr. Steele that if he will not back either of the NRCC's resolutions, then he "must find a way to demonstrate that Republicans share a fidelity to bold, positive ideas that will restrain the growth in government. Small government fiscal conservatism is now the very center of American politics, and if the Republican party credibly stands on that ground, it would attract the support of independent voters in the tea-party movement."
Mr. Steele did dodge at least one bullet when some RNC members backed away from a proposed motion that would direct Mr. Steele to stop violating the RNC's ethics, as laid out in its rule book, by ceasing his practice of making paid outside speeches. It would also have directed him to stop traveling around the country promoting his book while chairman and to turn over to the RNC the money he has been earning from sales of the book.
Asked during a Thursday press conference whether the RNC - or any vendors, consultants or contractors who work with the RNC - had made bulk purchases of his book, Mr. Steele gave a one-word answer: "No."
Three former RNC chairmen - Frank Fahrenkopf Jr., Rich Bond and Jim Nicholson - have openly criticized Mr. Steele for making paid speeches and writing and promoting his book instead of sticking at his desk making phone calls to major Republican donors.
Not shy about taking on his Republican critics, Mr. Steele played the race card in a profile of him in the current issue of Washingtonian magazine, complaining that his counterpart at the Democratic National Committee (former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, who is white) doesn't face the same criticisms in the press.
"I don't see stories about the internal operations of the DNC that I see about this operation? Why? Is it because Michael Steele is the chairman or is it because a black man is chairman," the magazine quotes him as saying.
On Thursday, Mr. Steele ignored a question about whether he thinks racism motivates some of his critics.
RNC members have been urging Mr. Steele to make a substantive appeal to disenchanted grass-roots conservatives who are thought to make up much of the tea-party movement. But The Washington Times has reported that leading figures in the tea-party movement say the RNC has been ignoring them.
"I have called into the RNC many times, and they still haven't called me back," Dale Robertson, head of TeaParty.org, which he claims has upward of 7 million members, told The Times. "I've called them, lots of times. I called them this morning. I called them yesterday. It's like they ignore you as they try to figure out a strategy on how to defeat you."