RNC Big Ten: A Litmus Test for the GOP?

Former Republican House Majority Leader Richard Armey on "Face the Nation," November 29, 2009.
Former Republican House Majority Leader Richard Armey, R-Texas, on "Face the Nation," November 29, 2009. GOP

Former Majority Leader Dick Armey said that the so-called Republican 10 Commandments, or principles, which members of the Republican National Committee introduced this week to keep their candidates in line with party ideals, is "not a litmus test."

Republican candidates wishing to receive fundraising and campaign support from the RNC would have to agree with at least 8 of 10 party positions, according to a resolution first reported by The New York Times. The list is to be considered at the Republicans' winter meeting.

Some have dubbed it a "purity test," with warnings that it might increase the schisms within the party.

"It's not a litmus test," Army declared on CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday.

"Secondly, it is being offered for consideration in the party. And I think, thirdly, it is seven out of the ten. But if you read the list, at least five of the ten are right at the center stage... centerpost of the big ten of American politics today."

Army said if a candidate wanted the support of the GOP, it was "very reasonable" to expect they "demonstrate some allegiance to the primary positions taken by the party. That's not a litmus test. That's just if you want us to give you our money, our support, our troops in the field, our endorsements, then demonstrate that you're someone like us," he said.

Dede Scozzafava, a moderate Republican and former Congressional candidate in New York's 23rd district (who dropped out of the race after some Republicans backed a Conservative Party candidate instead), said she would have been able to agree with seven of the 10 RNC principles in the resolution - suggesting she could have retained GOP support.

She argued that the reason a Democrat ultimately won her district (where no Democrat had won in over a century) was because the predecessor was a moderate Republican. "Some of the positions that I got criticized for taking were positions that [John McHugh, the Republican who vacated the seat] already had."

Armey, however, disagreed: "The Republicans lost that race when they nominated Dede," he said. "My activists on the ground contacted me and said that. The Conservative Party stayed out of the race until they saw that, despite the fact that she has a full and enthusiastic and generous support of the Republican Party, she was losing the race."

He characterized her support in the election as "clearly falling, dropping like a brick, before the Conservative candidate got in the race. So the fact of the matter was even the Democrat was running against her as a big spender. She was a bad fit for that race. Had there been an electoral primary process she wouldn't have won the primary," he added.

He also said that Scozzafava's subsequent endorsement of the Democratic candidate in the race (Bill Owens, who ultimately won), rather than the Conservative Party's Doug Hoffman, would make it very difficult for her to run as a Republican again.

Smith asked whether moderate has become a "dirty word" for the Republican Party.

"No, I don't believe it is," GOP strategist Ed Gillespie said. "I think that we can be a party that gets the majority, 218 seats in the House, that has some folks in New England, California, other places who may not agree with leader Armey or me on everything. But we have an agenda where we're cutting taxes, not raising them. We're giving people power, not taking it away."

In spite of concern among Republican moderates that the primary process - where more conservative constituents may support more conservative candidates, who were more likely to lose a general election - would hurt the party, Gillespie saw it as a positive.

"Look, we have a lot of internal discussion in the party right now," he said. "That's a healthy thing. The fact is because there's a sense of opportunity in the Republican Party that we can win House seats and Senate seats, we have vigorous primaries going on - that is the right problem to have.

"I think a vigorous debate over these things is healthy, but I also think as a party we need to be careful to make sure that we don't constrain our ability to win back the majority," he added.

Armey also promoted the primary process, using Scozzafava as an example of how not to put forward a candidate. "She was a bad fit for that race," he said. "Had there been an electoral primary process, she wouldn't have won the primary. She wouldn't have been the candidate. And the Republican would win the race."

Scozzafava, however, said she did not believe she was too moderate to win, and laid blame for her departure on the more conservative activists of the party.

"To Mr. Armey's point I was up by seven percentage points mid-October," she said, before the Club for Growth and other interests in Washington "flooded the market, distorted my record, and [it] was very difficult to counter that.

"I think it was very difficult for leadership at the RNC not to cave in to the pressures that they were receiving from the right," she said.