ORLANDO, Fla. – As the 2012 election draws near, FreedomWorks, the behemoth tea party organization, has learned a few things from past elections.
In an interview with The Daily Caller, Freedomworks Chairman Dick Armey and President Matt Kibbe said that this time, the tea party is getting into the race sooner and stronger.
When it comes to the presidential race, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has attracted their attention.
“I think you have to look at Romney as the establishment guy,” Kibbe told TheDC, adding that he is the “Charlie Crist of this race. Perry’s quick rise reflects the hunger to try and find an acceptable alternative.”
Moreover, Kibbe and Armey said they find Perry’s comments about Social Security refreshing.
“Any Republican willing to talk about the liabilities … in Social Security and Medicare,” said Kibbe, “I gotta tell ya, we find his willingness to be blunt compelling. I would like for that fight over the phrase ‘Ponzi scheme’ to morph into a serious conversation.”
“This debate has been carried on for years by Republicans that don’t dare and Democrats who don’t care,” Armey added. “Now, all of a sudden we have a candidate who dares. We need somebody who dares to take on this issue.” (RELATED: Conservative ire with Perry runs deep, reflects racial politics)
“In the world of political correctness, you can more quickly get in trouble for telling an obvious truth than you can for telling a lie,” said Armey.
FreedomWorks’ disdain for Romney and, more specifically, the health care plan he signed into law, has been no secret. But they have no plans to publicly endorse a presidential candidate just yet. They’re realistic, and are willing to look at a candidate’s pitfalls, even if that candidate passes their philosophical test.
When asked about Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, Kibbe and Armey acknowledged her appeal to the conservative base, but expressed concern about her campaign’s recent drop in the polls.
“She has to rehabilitate her ability to express her candidacy,” said Armey. “I think she’s had a pretty serious breakdown and I don’t know how she overcomes that. But what she still has going for her, is she still has such an authentic appeal to grassroots activists.”
FreedomWorks may not be ready to weigh in on the presidential race, but congressional races are another matter. So far, the organization has been methodically dipping its toes in certain races, while issuing full endorsements in others.
In Florida the group already endorsed Senate candidate Adam Hasner, who’s biggest challenge comes from former Sen. George LeMieux. (RELATED: Thune soft-pedals RomneyCare ultimatum)
“It’s almost a mirror image of the race between Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist,” Kibbe told TheDC, citing LeMieux’s ties to the former Governor of Florida.
In Texas, Senate candidate Ted Cruz has also received a FreedomWorks endorsement.
Kibbe cited other states including Indiana, Nebraska and Utah where the group’s grassroots organization is beginning to swing into gear with congressional races.
When asked if there will be a credible tea party challenger to Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Kibbe replied with, “Oh yeah!” While no challenger has announced, prospective candidates include state Sen. Dan Liljenquist and Utah tea party leader Dan Kirkham.
“I think what’s different about this cycle is that the tea party isn’t getting in late,” said Kibbe. “They’re voicing opinions early, which I think is going to result in few train wrecks.”
“The Delaware train wreck,” Kibbe added, referring to Christine O’Donnell’s Senate bid, “started with a failure of the Republican establishment to nominate someone who was even remotely acceptable on policy criteria.”
FreedomWorks’ goal in 2012 is for grassroots activists to have more of an influence in picking the GOP presidential nominee. The goal reflects a general sentiment that the Republican establishment is still too far gone to pick an acceptable nominee to run against President Barack Obama.
“Republicans have always chosen the next guy in line, and Democrats don’t suffer this institutional problem,” said Kibbe. “That’s how we got Bob Dole and John McCain. That’s why people were starting to circle the wagons around Romney.”
“I don’t think Republicans are going to choose the next guy in line this time,” he added. “This is being driven from the bottom up, by the grassroots, and they’re looking for something better than the next guy in line.”