A top operative of a conservative caucus who repeatedly proved to be a thorn in the side of establishment Republicans became the latest casualty of the so-called Republican civil war on Wednesday.
Paul Teller was fired from his job as the executive director of the Republican Study Committee (RSC) by Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the group’s current chair. The group sees its mission as pushing an increasingly conservative caucus of House Republicans even further to the right.
Officially, the reason Teller was fired was for leaking conversations between RSC members. “Trust between senior staff and RSC members is paramount,” a spokesman for the group said according to Politico. “Every decision Chairman Scalise makes is in the best interest of the RSC and advancing conservative causes.”
But Teller’s far more serious offense seems to be that he had been working with groups now under fire from Republican leaders for speaking out against the two-year budget deal introduced earlier in the week by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Patty Murray (D-WA).
The deal has the support of establishment conservatives and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) has repeatedly criticized the conservative groups (Heritage Action, Club For Growth, FreedomWorks) for opposing the deal. Teller’s firing came a day before the House was set to vote on the deal.
“The fact that you’re seeing this in the same time and in the same 24 hour period as the speaker goes guns blazing with those outside groups is not necessarily a coincidence,” American Enterprise Institute congressional scholar Norm Ornstein told TPM on Thursday.
Tea partier Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS), who was involved in a failed coup of Boehner’s speakership, said he didn’t know whether Teller’s removal was retaliation by Boehner and his allies but it did deal a blow to the conservatives critical of establishment Republicans.
“The RSC has usually established a lot of independence in the past from leadership but I don’t know if that’s the case anymore,” Huelskamp told TPM on Thursday. “But Paul Teller is probably the most effective conservative we’ve had on the hill and if you want to pass conservative policies he’s the last guy you want to kick off your team.”
Huelskamp added, “Maybe that’s the concern from the leadership; that he’s too effective.”
Reactions to Teller’s firings included praise for the former executive director but also general agreement with his firing. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who chaired the committee before Scalise, told The Washington Post that Teller is a “good guy” but also that his firing was appropriate.
Teller had been closely aligned with the tea party firebrand Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC) and his aides before DeMint left Congress to run the Heritage Foundation. DeMint’s former political action committee, the Senate Conservatives Fund, is engaged in a heated ongoing feud with the National Republican Senatorial Committee. In 2011 Roll Call reported that Teller had regularly used a Republican listserv to rally support against Republican leadership proposals as well. To conservatives he has been hailed as something of a hero and his firing seems to have inflamed tea partiers even more.
Members and staff commonly complained that Tiller was moving the RSC in a more ideological direction. If anything, it was more a surprise that Teller was allowed to stay on as executive director of the RSC when Scalise took the reins in 2011.
“This move is yet another indication that we have nothing in common with GOP leadership and that we need to find a new home for conservatism on Capitol Hill,” The Madison Project’s Daniel Horowitz wrote on the group’s website. “For over a decade, Paul Teller has been the conscience of conservatism on the Hill. He funneled in the light of truth from the conservative country class into the halls of Congress and the ruling class. He helped build the RSC into an intellectual conservative powerhouse, which served as the gold standard for conservative research and activism within the House conference.”
A graduate of Duke University and American University, Teller has long seen the RSC as a tool to push conservative policies, even when it means fighting other Republicans.
“This is a group that sees its role as trying to advance conservative constitutional principles like liberty and limited government, government doing less, private sector doing more. If that happens to align with what certain Republicans are pushing at a given moment, great, but if not, we’ll call it as we see it,” Teller told the Duke Chronicle in 2012.
Teller sees the Republican Party as kind of like a family — and going against kin often hurts the most.
“[The Republican Party is] almost like a family. If you think about it, who can you get angriest at in the world? Your own family or your closest friends because they have the biggest ability to disappoint you,” Teller told the Chronicle. “Intraparty fights can be really contentious because you’re supposed to be family and that’s who can most disappoint you, that’s who you thought was working on the same side as you.”
Photo from Paul Teller via Facebook.