Mitt Romney, FreedomWorks, and the Tea Party


Grassroots conservative powerhouse FreedomWorks hopped aboard the Tea Party Express for a “Reclaiming America” bus tour, but this weekend FreedomWorks is hopping off the bus in New Hampshire, clutching their souvenir travel mugs and calculating the odds of surviving an Amtrak ride home.  They explained why in a press release:

After months of distancing himself from the tea party, suddenly Mitt Romney wants to be one of us.

That’s right, the big-spending former governor who signed Massachusetts’ very own version of ObamaCare is scheduled to take the stage this Sunday at a rally in Concord, NH to lecture real conservatives about limited government and fiscal responsibility.

FreedomWorks and tea party groups from around the region will be there. But not to hear more platitudes from an establishment hack posing as an outsider.

We’ll be there to tell the real story about Mitt Romney, and to protest his record, which represents everything the tea party stands against.

After all, if we don’t hold candidates accountable for their actions while in office, who will? If we let ourselves be used as pawns to provide cover for the establishment, then what is the point of having the tea party?

We’re standing on principle, not politics. Will you join us?

Further statements from FreedomWorks emphasized the depth of their disagreement with Romney (and Orrin Hatch, who was invited to give a speech by the Tea Party Express earlier in the tour):

“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.”

[…] “The tea party in New Hampshire is determined to help elect a candidate dedicated to this country’s founding principles of limited government, individual responsibility and individual freedom,” commented Andrew Hemingway, head of the Republican Liberty Caucus of New Hampshire. “Mitt Romney is clearly not that candidate.”

FreedomWorks has consistently heard from its members that Romney is not an acceptable presidential candidate, objecting to his support for government-run healthcare, the TARP bailout, and his cloudy stance on cap and trade. FreedomWorks has also been a leading voice in the movement to retire Senator Orrin Hatch for his decades of bad votes expanding government and seeks to replace him with a principled fiscal conservative.

FreedomWorks spokesman Adam Brandon assured me “our beef is with Romney, not the Tea Party Express.”  They’re opposed to the Romney appearance because they have deep and sincere differences of policy and principle with him.

This led to some criticism that FreedomWorks was drawing the walls of the Republican “big tent” too tight, and helping the Obama 2012 campaign by damaging someone who might well end up being the Republican nominee.  If that happens, Brandon said, it would be “very much like what happened with John McCain.  We won’t endorse Romney, but we won’t work against him.”  His group would devote its efforts to reinforcing many other important races around the country.

Is there anything Romney could do to win FreedomWorks over, without requiring the use of a time machine?  The Romney campaign will be happy to know the answer is yes.  Brandon said he just needs to “repudiate the individual mandate, and apologize for RomneyCare, and his positions on cap & trade and global warming.” 

Short of that, he dismissed the notion of Romney showing up at Tea Party events just to get “a photo op next to a guy with a tricorner hat and a Gadsden flag.”  There is a difference between embracing a movement and appeasing it.

Brandon marveled at criticism that it was somehow inappropriate to express such a strong difference of principle with Romney, having been under the impression that primaries were exactly the right time to issue stern challenges to candidates.  He finds it a bit too early to answer substantive criticism of particular GOP candidates with “anybody but Obama!”

“We’re trying to get policy-based fiscal conservatives elected,” he explained, noting that more “authentic” candidates, such as Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, and Ron Paul have staked out strong positions on such issues.  Meanwhile, he sees Romney as offering criticism without detailed alternatives.  “Romney doesn’t like Paul Ryan’s budget plan,” Brandon said.  “What’s his plan?  Where is it?”

Brandon repeated a comment often heard from Tea Party members: “We’re a conservative organization, not a Republican Party organization.”  As an organization dedicated to principle, they don’t like being taken for granted as political props… either by liberal critics, or Republican politicians rummaging through the electoral closet for props.

As for the issue of authenticity, I would expand it to include both passion and comprehension.  For example, Romney has responded to attacks on his support for an individual mandate by saying it’s something that states can do, while the Constitution forbids such mandates to the federal government.  That makes Romney a weak critic of ObamaCare, which is not a topic to be addressed with hair-splitting finesse.  It also leads one to ask if Romney fully understands why individual mandates are wrong.  Okay, they violate the Constitution when the federal government imposes them… but why does the Constitution forbid them?  What thinking guided the Founders’ hands, as their pen moved across that mighty document?

The champion America needs against Obama’s path to ruin will have a deep and passionate understanding of these principles.  It won’t be necessary to consult a ream of notes prepared by staffers, or wonder what the guys wearing tricorner hats want to hear.  Primary season is our only chance to let the candidates know where we stand, and find out which ones are not only capable of standing with us, but eager to do so.

The FreedomWorks logo declares their commitment to lower taxes, less government, and more freedom.  Why should anyone expect them to settle for one out of three?