Paul Teller: Academic in the Arena
The executive director of the Republican Study Committee told Human Events the committee will continue to serve as the conscience of the House Republicans.
“That’s what it was founded to do,” said Paul S. Teller, who has led the RSC staff since January 2009 and joined the team in February 2001.
Teller said the RSC’s first executive director, Edwin J. Feulner Jr., helped organize the committee in 1973 as a way of pulling the GOP more to the right, while President Richard M. Nixon was pulling the party more to the left. The RSC has more than 170 members and in the next congress will form the majority of the majority.
“One of the mistakes leadership makes with the RSC is that they don’t use us enough as a way to protect their right flank,” he said.
“They did it a little recently, but if leadership worked more closely with the RSC members, they would find that the RSC can put pressure on Democrats or on the Senate in a way that could be very helpful,” he said.
In the same vein, the RSC executive director said the House Republican leadership seems to think that conservatives are just interested in causing trouble or making things difficult. “I try to tell them over and over it really is not the case.”
Teller had his 15 minutes in July 2011. As the House Republican leadership was rounding up votes to support a debt ceiling increase supported by the Speaker of the House Rep. John A. Boehner (R.-Ohio), Teller and his RSC staff emailed conservative advocacy groups urgently them to pressure GOP congressmen to vote against the bill.
At the next meeting of the entire House Republican Conference, members supporting the speaker’s debt ceiling bill challenged Rep. James D. Jordan (R.-Ohio), the RSC chairman, and some demanded that Jordan fire Teller for undermining party unity.
“I never got the feeling from the chairman that he was uncomfortable with what we did,” Teller said.
Despite the calls for his head and the over-the-top write-ups in the media, including New York tabloids about the controversy, Teller said he was able to remain calm because he knew many of the activities in the articles attributed to him, he did not do. “The facts were correct, but everything was linked to me and I didn’t do any of those things.”
As for the members chanting at the meeting: “Fire him! Fire him! Fire him!” Teller said there was no chanting.
In the days after the climatic meeting, the one-time staffer for the Committee on House Administration said he was floored by the amount of support people gave him in Washington and around the country.
“There were emails and phone calls, and even when I was on the street people would stop me to tell me that they supported what we were doing,” he said. “People would honk their horns at me and one guy leaned out a car window and shouted at me to keep it up.”
The new chairman of the RSC is Rep. Stephen J. Scalise (R-La.), who will formally take over for Jordan in January, he said. Already, Teller is working with Scalise to make sure the RSC begins the new session strongly.
The Queens, N.Y., native said he grew up in that city and on Long Island before leaving for Duke University. In 1993, he graduated from Duke and came to Washington for graduate school at American University. He earned his Ph.D. in political science in 1999.
Teller said once he arrived at American he realized that he did not want to be an academic in the academy—he wanted to be an academic in the political arena. “I stayed because I wanted to finish what I started, but I wanted to expand my mind and my knowledge and that’s not what you do as an academic, there they want you to become more and more narrow.”
Teller lives with his wife Maxine and their son and daughter in Chevy Chase. “It sounds like a cheesy movie how I met my wife,” he said.
“We met through mutual friends,” he said. “We were under the Washington Monument on July 4, 1997 and the fireworks had just started,” he said. “We were not set up, there was a group of us and we were all setting down our blankets. She walked over and I saw her and said: ‘Hi, my name is Paul.’ After that I don’t remember what she said or what I said. My head was all somewhere else.”
At the Teller home, he said they do not talk politics. Maxine is a left-leaning Independent, he said. “That’s probably a good thing.”