FreedomWorks to Romney: Take Your Tea and Shove It

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 31 2011 10:51 AM

FreedomWorks to Romney: Take Your Tea and Shove It

All of that bad blood between Tea Party groups? Poof, gone. All the times when grassroots organizations said Tea Party Express was too pro-Republican? Forgotten. FreedomWorks had been touring along with TPX, which has acheived more mainstream cred as it's built a relationship with CNN.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

And now FreedomWorks is bailing. They explain why:

FreedomWorks will end its participation in the Tea Party Express "Reclaiming America" tour, and instead stand with local New Hampshire tea party leaders to protest Mitt Romney’s participation as the featured speaker in the tour’s Sunday evening event. The decision was made following the announcement of Romney’s headliner speech on the tour, and a speech made earlier in the tour by big-government Utah Senator Orrin Hatch.
“Mitt Romney and Orrin Hatch have actively and consistently supported expanding the role of government through government-run health care, Wall Street bailouts and spending hikes. Those positions are unacceptable to the tea party principles of lower taxes, less government and more freedom,” commented Matt Kibbe, President of FreedomWorks. “For these reasons, we have decided to end our participation in the Reclaiming America tour.”

FreedomWorks telegraphed this move months ago, telling Jon Ward that denying the GOP nomination to Mitt Romney was a top priority. They were sticking to that. Other Tea Party groups seemed to be more attuned to, and compelled by, political power. For example, despite CNN's initial reporting on the Romney move, this was not his first Tea Party appearance. Romney was one of the GOP candidates who joined Americans for Prosperity's April 29 New Hampshire rally. AFP, which predates the Tea Party but came into its own as an organizing force for the movement, has always attracted Republican leaders and presidential candidates to its events. AFP is David Koch's group; FreedomWorks exists because Dick Armey bolted from the old, Koch-funded Citizens for a Sound Economy over disagreements with Koch. And FreedomWorks continues to identify itself as the group that'll kneecap anyone who goes rogue.

UPDATE: Sal Russo of Tea Party Express refers me to the group's statement on the affair. "Stupid stunt for them to pull," he says. "Helps feed the false impression that the tea party is a bunch on unreasonable people."

We’ve been very clear that this presidential tour is open to presidential candidates who want to speak to the tea party, and many candidates have confirmed they will attend. This is their chance to make their case to the tea party audience about why they deserve support from the tea party movement.
Mitt Romney is one speaker out of many that include Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin, Herman Cain, Thaddeus McCotter, Gary Johnson, and Buddy Roemer.
It’s just silly to protest a tea party where Governor Romney is speaking. It would be just as ridiculous to protest Senator DeMint’s gathering on Monday, to which Romney has also been invited. Narrow mindedness is not the way to strengthen the tea party movement.
The Tea Party Express has a reputation for being inclusive during its rallies. Even when we have endorsed a candidate, we have still allowed their political opponents to speak. That’s because the Tea Party Express trusts the ability of tea party members to evaluate candidates and issues, and make up their own minds. We don’t think it is right to tell the tea party who they can and can’t listen to. A top-down isolationist approach isn’t constructive to the political process.
We view this move by FreedomWorks at best as a misguided press stunt, and are disappointed at the disingenuous approach taken after we have made every effort to be inclusive and accommodating on our national bus tour.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



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