Freedomworks a Player in the 2014 Elections

FreedomWorks Looks At the 2014 Election

By Karin McQuillan

Matt Kibbe, the head of FreedomWorks, keeps his eye on the goal: “not a junior partnership with the Republican Party, but a hostile takeover of it.”  Kibbe is a marathoner in for the long haul.  FreedomWorks has seen worse times, when libertarians were shunned.  Since 2009, it has become a key contributor to that mainstream grassroots movement known as the Tea Party.  I called Matt Kibbe last week to hear his thoughts on the midterm election. 

Kibbe highlights the Tea Party’s continuing power.  While the elite pundits keep announcing the Tea Party’s demise, voter identification as Tea Party remains 25%.  That’s an enormous mass movement.  It is uniquely a spontaneous, leaderless movement, which makes it powerful in unconventional ways that are not easily co-opted or suppressed.

While pundits claim that the Tea Party peaked in 2010, Kibbe points out that most of the potential presidential candidates for ’16 are the new generation that came into office supported by Tea Party voters – Cruz, Paul, Rubio.  Even Chris Christie began by taking on teachers' unions.  Scott Walker is a fiscal conservative.  Mike Pence.  It is the establishment who are desperate to find their champion.  Kibbe doesn’t believe that Jeb Bush is serious (“he’s interested in promoting his business interests in Common Core”), but he worries that Romney might run again.

Here is a typical FreedomWorks analysis: 

Five years ago, pundits were predicting a permanent Democrat Senate supermajority, instead, we are repopulating the Senate with true conservatives.  For the first time we have a block of solid conservative votes in the senate.  In 1995, we only had Phil Gramm.  Dole was majority leader and killed every piece of conservative legislation.  Now we are building towards a critical mass.  Starting with the strongest fiscal and constitutional conservatives, we have about 10, some stronger than others. We will be adding to their coalition in this election with Ben Sasse, Joni Ernst, and others.

At the same time, Kibbe is a realist, so he adds:  “depends how they behave once they’re in office.”  FreedomWorks is very aware of the power of Washington to corrupt.

As I learned at a FreedomWorks gathering in 2012, party leaders in Congress punish fiscal conservatives by keeping them out of powerful committees and out of committees important to their constituents, indulge in petty retribution like assigning them lousy offices, and withhold financial support for their re-election.  Few junior politicians resist the powerful pressures to buckle under to the RINO establishment.  That is why FreedomWorks has raised its own campaign chest.  They are an alternative source of support, so the new senators and congressmen know someone will be watching their back when the establishment cuts off re-election funds.

David Keene, past president of the NRA, tells me that for labeling purposes, the ACU considers anyone with an 80 or above to be a conservative, and only a very few get between 90 and 100.  I clicked onto the FreedomWorks legislative scorecard, and using the 80% rule of thumb, it does make cheerful reading.  Senators Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and Jeff Flake are 92% and above, and there are another seven senators who score above 80.  You will find surprises – neither of the two Republicans from a famously conservative state like Wyoming make the cut (Barasso is only 64, Enzi 75).

In the House, Kibbe highlighted Congressmen Pat Toomey, Ron Johnson, and Justin Amash as tough, reliable conservatives.  There are 70 Representatives who voted with FreedomWorks at least 80% of the time on 16 key votes in 2014 – voting against the appropriations bill, the debt limit extension, the farm bill; voting to rein in the IRS, to delay the Obamacare individual mandate, and so on.  (You can see the whole list if you scroll down on the scorecard page.)

FreedomWorks is not aiming at a majority.  A minority can drive the energy of the party, Kibbe points out.  “Senator Mike Lee will be chairing the Senate Steering Committee – that’s where ideas come from.  Jim DeMint turned it into a leadership position.  Mike Lee is a think-tank, not a flamethrower.  If our guys are writing the bill (to repeal Obamacare), a patient-centered, free-market health care bill, we become the go-to thinker.”  We will be promoting “our version of fairness: treating everyone like everyone else.”  No bias in the tax code, or in any law.

Kibbe’s angst – what are Republicans for?  The 11 principles of the Republican National Committee just announced by Chairman Reince Priebus are “very stale.”  

During the campaign the party says they want to balance the budget – but House Republicans voted this down.  They were not willing to argue for it when it came to specifics.  The Republican’s  Achilles heel is they think they can win by running out clock -  with  no platform of liberty-based economic reforms.

FreedomWorks tries to organize people on based on values and ideas to change public policy.  Just running ads to get votes changes nothing.  

Politics is all about incentives, Kibbe notes.  He wants Freedonworks to change the incentives.  How?  Conservatives have to vote.  “People are busy.  Conservative voters [ignore elections] because they want to be left alone by government, while other side shows up because they want to get something.”

I point out that in the last election, the RINOs and Tea Party both used GOTV from the Stone Age, while Obama used his Google connection to leapfrog into 21st-century data-mining.  Kibbe claims that Facebook and yard signs are powerful tools to get out the conservative vote, which is different from the Democrats, more decentralized, and self-organizing.  Moms have bigger Facebook presence than the GOP.  FreedomWorks has 2.8 million members and 4.6 million Facebook friends.  FreedomWorks directs its message to age groups and interests by buying Facebook ads.  In my mind, FreedomWorks' biggest contribution is its financial and organizing support for enthusiastic Tea Party volunteers, doing door-to-door canvassing, in contrast to Karl Rove’s over-reliance on ad buys.   

Which states is the FreedomWorks PAC involved in for the midterms?  Their web page lists 4 Senate candidates and 31 representatives.  Kibbe:

We want to grow the liberty caucus in House:  Bruce Poliquin in Maine, Clint Didier in Washington are of special interest to us.  Add them to outstanding conservative Congressmen Justin Amash of Michigan, and Thomas Massie of Kentucky, and it really gives them more juice. 

Ben Sasse (running in Nebraska) is the star of this cycle. Montana looks good. Iowa interesting.  SCF endorsed Jodi Ernst.  Colorado.  Alaska.  None of Republicans in these races are perfect, but they could add to the liberty block in the Senate.

In the Senate, we need 30 votes to take the Speaker down.  Mitch McConnell – can he afford to alienate Mike Lee and Ted Cruz now?  Think of the way Susan Collins and Arlen Specter were courted – that’s the role we will have.  Cruz has proven that standing on principle makes you the most wanted vote: first, they ignore you, then they attack you, now he’ll be back with reinforcements.  Cruz and Paul are ones helping in Kansas, not McCain.  They help get out the vote for the party now – they get more power.

The GOP are all in Kansas trying to save Senator Pat Roberts, who doesn’t live in Kansas.  Sucking money from New Hampshire and Colorado.  GOP spent $40 million to save Mitch McConnell (in his primary in Kentucky) and again for Cochran in Mississippi rather than (letting them be defeated in the primary and using that money to gain) new seats.  The GOP Senatorial Committee is all about protecting incumbents instead of growing the Republican caucus.  They’re having trouble with donors.  Also at RNC.  The GOP is losing their small broad donor base and having to rely more on corporate donors.

Will the headlines on ISIS and Ebola move the vote in the last few weeks?  Kibbe isn’t much interested.  For him, it changes the topic away from the big drivers: the economy, Obamacare, the progressive abuse of power.  He mentions the guy jumping the fence of the White House impressing people with a sense of the administration’s incompetence.  Ebola and ISIS makes Obama look like he’s not with us.

An October surprise is predictable, adds Kibbe, and judging by the past, it will be about race.  Ferguson will be back in the headlines, he predicts.

At the end of the day, the biggest threat to a Republican majority in the senate is the Republican Party.  They are following their consultant strategy – run out the clock; don’t say anything controversial.  No ideas. 

FreedomWorks wants candidates to run on the ideas that come from conservative voters, so they can be held accountable after the election.  Kibbe ends by talking about  Contract From America, launched in 2010 by Ron Hecker, a Houston Tea Party activist.  Unlike the GOP 11 principles hatched by the RNC professionals, Contract From America was voted on by hundreds of thousands of people.  Instead of the usual GOP platitudes about protecting the Constitution, it gets specific.  For example, “[r]equire each bill to identify the specific provision of the Constitution that gives Congress the power to do what the bill says.”  Mike Lee was the first candidate to sign it.  There are now 300 candidates and elected officials. 

FreedomWorks is based on the principle that “government goes to those who show up.”  When the grassroots go up against the government, the people win.