For conservative opponents of House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and congressional Republican leadership, Monday was a good day.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) announced this week that he hired Paul Teller as his deputy chief of staff. Roughly a month earlier, Teller was fired as the executive director of the Republican Study Committee, which has essentially served as the policy group for tea partiers and conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives. Teller had been accused of leaking RSC correspondence to outside groups –something that proved to be a thorn in the paws of Republican leadership. Now, Teller is joining Cruz who has become the standard bearer for ultra conservative opponents of establishment Republicans.
“It’s like dumping lighter fluid on the biggest flame out there and you get one giant conservative fireball!” Daniel Horowitz, the policy director for The Madison Project, a conservative outside group, told TPM in an email.
Unlike at the RSC, where he was clandestinely acting as a conduit to movement conservative groups, part of Teller’s new job is to work with those groups. He also is joining an office that already employs a number of anti-establishment staffers including former FreedomWorks staffer Max Pappas, ex-aide of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) Amanda Carpenter, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) autobiography ghost writer Chip Roy.
Outside conservative organizations hailed Teller’s hiring as a welcome twist. He’s the weed that establishment Republicans just can’t get rid of.
Horowitz told TPM that under the current chairman of the RSC, Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), Teller was supposed to work less with outside groups and more in line with GOP leadership.
“The new management there wanted the RSC to move closer to leadership,” Horowitz said. “Cruz, on the other hand, always promised to work with the grassroots and continues to deliver on that promise. That is why this is such a natural fit.”
Cruz is also using Teller as a signal that he’s ready to go another round with Boehner and Republican leadership, just a few months after the junior senator from Texas tussled with them over his push to only continue to fund the government if Obamacare is defunded. That push ended disastrously for the GOP.
“This is not simply a shot at the Speaker. Remember, it was the leaders of the Republican Study Committee who booted Teller for being more loyal to the ideology and the outside groups then to his employers,” American Enterprise Institute congressional scholar Norm Ornstein told TPM. “So this is Cruz sending a signal not just to the Republican leadership but to his fellow insurgents in the House.”
It’s a sign from Cruz, Ornstein continued, that he “will push the ideological cause what ever the damage to individual careers or more pragmatic routes.”
Theda Skocpol, a Harvard University political scientist who recently penned an essay in the liberal Democracy: A Journal of Ideas on GOP infighting, said the hire is more about Cruz sending a message to Boehner.
“He’s not inside the tent passing stuff out but yes, this is obviously an in-your-face-move. It’s exactly what I would expect from Ted Cruz,” Skocpol said. “What we’re seeing here is a signal from Ted Cruz that he’s going to try send clear signals to a part of the flock that’s supposed to be following John Boehner.”
That’s why conservative groups like the Senate Conservatives Fund and Heritage Action were so gleeful on Monday.
“Paul Teller is widely respected by conservatives,” The Senate Conservatives Fund Executive Director Matt Hoskins told TPM. “The Republican establishment in the House fired him because he wouldn’t go along with their big government policies, but now he’s in a position to fight even harder. This is great news and it shows that Ted Cruz values having quality people on his team.”
Similarly, Michael Needham, who runs Heritage Action, tweeted that it’s a “great day” for both Teller and Cruz.
Congratulations to @SenTedCruz and Paul Teller. Today is a great day for both of them and for the conservative movement.
— Michael Needham (@MikeNeedham) January 13, 2014