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Conservative insider

"Conservative insider" Continued...

Issue: "2012 Daniels of the Year," Dec. 15, 2012

That’s OK, said Teller: “If everybody expected 100 percent total victory every day and based their mood on that, we’d all be in mental institutions,” he said. “You have to look at the bright side and use that bright side to strengthen yourself for the next battle.”

The coming battles include the so-called “fiscal cliff”—mandatory spending cuts and tax increases set to take effect Jan. 1—which could include discussions on entitlement reform, and another debt ceiling skirmish that has been largely overshadowed. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the federal government can keep afloat into early 2013, but it may bump into its borrowing limit before the fiscal cliff arrives, and House Speaker John Boehner has promised another showdown. “There’s a lot left to do,” Teller said. “Liberty is eroding in this country.” 

Meanwhile Teller, whose cheerful optimism earns him the nickname “happy warrior,” is trying to talk other conservatives off the ledge: “There are some legitimate positives,” he said. “We lost some very important conservatives ... but by and large the members that lost were a little less conservative.” 

Teller’s allegiance to conservative standards—he said President George W. Bush didn’t meet the standard —has won him plenty of friends but made some enemies, too. Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., who met Teller when the two were working on doctorates at American University, told me Teller is a man of integrity, but some people still don’t like him: “They don’t dislike him personally, they dislike how effective he is,” he said.

Huelskamp said Teller’s role is critical: Most conservative issues considered in the House come out of the RSC, and getting those into law is difficult with a Democrat-controlled Senate. The RSC is largely responsible for framing the debate and keeping issues in the public eye.

During the debt ceiling debate last year, the RSC worked against the Budget Control Act of 2011 negotiated by Boehner—because Teller, RSC Chairman Jim Jordan, and other conservatives felt it didn’t go far enough to balance the budget and trim the national debt. “We just didn’t like this particular legislative proposal,” said Teller, and the RSC wasn’t afraid to oppose its own party. After an RSC staffer lobbied outside groups against its own members, and someone leaked a Teller email assessing the mood in a closed-door meeting, a dozen members ended up leaving the caucus.

The RSC pressure helped convince Huelskamp and 65 other Republicans to vote against the bill, but the maneuvering among Republicans also highlighted a divided party. And it strengthened Teller’s position with conservatives: Seven months later, he was named Capitol Hill Staffer of the Year at the 2012 Weyrich Awards Dinner.  

Following the GOP’s Nov. 6 losses, change is in the Washington air as Republicans evaluate the direction of the party. Price lost his bid to attain the GOP’s No. 4 leadership position, and Steve Scalise, R-La., won the Nov. 15 RSC leadership election. The 47-year-old pro-life Catholic and Tea Party member will face a divide between those who believe the caucus has grown too large with too many moderates, and those who don’t like the push toward more conservative policies.

Teller told me he believes conservatives need to keep doing most of what they’ve been doing, but with improved messaging to groups that didn’t vote Republican—such as Hispanics. “We need to go to the people where they are. We need to meet people, build coalitions, go where they work, go where they pray, and connect with human beings.”  

Decisions to retain RSC staff should happen before year’s end, but regardless of the outcome, Teller says, “Our ideas are bigger than any election. They live on regardless of who wins whatever office.”

Some speculate on Teller’s future as a political candidate, but he told me a run for office is unlikely. He placed the odds “around 3” on a 1-to-10 scale, noting he lives in a liberal area of Maryland with his wife and two kids, and he’s not enticed by the “grueling” job of a lawmaker. For now, he has no plans to quit trying to “throw a monkey wrench into the gears of liberalism,” because “the gears are still churning really, really hard.”

Editor's note: After this issue of WORLD went to press, the Republican Study Committee confirmed Paul Teller would return as executive director for the 113th Congress.

J.C. Derrick
J.C. Derrick

J.C. is a reporter in WORLD's Washington Bureau. He spent 10 years covering sports, higher education, and politics for the Longview News-Journal and other newspapers in Texas before joining WORLD in 2012. Follow J.C. on Twitter @jcderrick1.

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