Yesterday, Matt Kibbe, President and CEO of FreedomWorks, and former Rep. Steve LaTourette, President and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, joined Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday to discuss the direction of the Republican Party.
Kibbe and FreedomWorks have focused on supporting fiscal conservatives in primaries across the country, including backing primary challenges to more moderate members of Congress. FreedomWorks was essential to electing Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz — all of which went up against establishment candidates or incumbents with questionable records. LaTourette and the Republican Main Street Partnership have tried to steer the Republican Party in a more centrist direction.
With the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) held near Washington, DC this past weekend and other events — including the sequester and Sen. Rand Paul’s filibuster — dominating the new cycle recently, there was plenty to discuss. Additionally, Kibbe and LaTourette represent two different views on how the Republican Party should fuction.
Wallace asked LaTourette about his post-election comments in which he called Tea Party members of Congress “chuckleheads.” LaTourette, who served in Congress from 1995 to 2013, replied, “I don’t think I would say it’s all of Tea Party freshmen. I’d say it’s 40 or 50 in 112th Congress that seemed more interested in voting no and going home than governing and that comment was made after ‘Plan B,’” a reference to Speaker John Boehner’s failed alternative to the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
“And it was the opening gambit and would have given the speaker the opportunity to go to the White House and over to the Senate and say, ‘Here, I have a package, and, let’s continue our negotiations,’” LaTourette added. “When you take it down, as the speaker said in our meeting after that, you send him to the White House naked. He’s got no armor. He’s got no tools.”
When asked why many Republicans don’t like the principled direction that his group and others are trying to push, Kibbe explained that the Tea Party is the reason that a balanced budget and the national debt are part of the debate.
“[Y]ou have to take a step back and understand the only reason we are talking about a balanced budget, the only reason that we’re having a serious debate about $16-plus trillion in debt, is because of the Tea Party class in 2010 and, the folks we had in 2012,” said Kibbe. “You have to stop this process, this bipartisan process, of just kicking the can down the road, creating these artificial crises on New Year’s Eve and say, let’s put ideas on the table, let’s stop playing this game.”
“And we’re never going to fix the problem just by pretending that the process of bipartisanship somehow gets to real problems, because that’s how we got here,” Kibbe added. “This crisis was created by both Republicans and Democrats not willing to make tough choices.”
LaTourette disagreed. “I’ll tell you, that flies in the face of what we did in the 1990s, Bill Clinton was the president, John Kasich was the budget chair, and, Newt Gingrich was the speaker, and we created the Balanced Budget Act in 1997,” he said. “And quite frankly, it was during the Bush years of spending, multiplied now by the Obama years that we have this mess.”
While it’s true that the balanced budget was a bipartisan accomplishment of the 1990s, Republicans compromised significantly and abandoned their principles to get it. Stephen Slivinski, author of the book, Buck Wild: How Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government, noted the drift away from limited government that began in the late 1990s as a result of compromise.
Writing specifically about the balanced budget in 1997, Slivinski noted, “The 1997 budget deal that Gingrich helped craft was replete with retreats on budget discipline. The spending caps that were in place in the Contract with America budget were abandoned: the 1997 budget ended up hiking overall discretionary spending by 11.5%.”
“The GOP talking points on the budget compromise reminded reporters that the agreement gave Clinton less than he’d asked for,” he added. “That’s certainly true. But Republicans voluntarily gave up more of their own territory than Clinton did.” And when fiscal conservatives tried to steer the budget back in the direct of the Contract with America, the quest for political power won over principled budgeting. Sure, a balanced budget is a good thing, but if you’re selling out principles to get there, have you really accomplished anything?
LaTourette continued on his point. “[M]y difficulty with the Tea Party freshmen is not the true passion that they bring to this.” They are an important part of the Republican Party,” he said. “My difficulty is at the end of the day, you have to govern. Just saying no doesn’t get you anything, and it creates these false crises.”
LaTourette’s contention was that the Tea Party movement bears responsibility for things like the “fiscal cliff” and the sequeater. “[Y]ou can get past the false crises if you work something out,” he said. “And it doesn’t mean surrendering principle. It doesn’t mean becoming a Democrat or a RINO or a DINO. It means working together in a way you get 60 percent of what you want.”
Kibbe shot back in defense of the Tea Party and explained that the system is fundamentally broken. “We came in with our members, and tried to do something about it. I remember a day when April 15th is when the House and Senate had to pass the budget resolution,” he explained. “I remember when they had to reconcile the 13 appropriations bills, I remember a day when the president actually had to introduce his budget, and today we don’t do any of that stuff. And that’s how we got to the $16 trillion.”
Kibbe continued, “And there is something rational about standing on the tracks and saying, you know, we can’t do it this way anymore, we have to do it some other way.”
LaTourette reiterated his previous point. “[J]ust voting no and then holding your nose and saying, boy, if it passes, then I can go home to my local Tea Party groups and say, ‘I voted no,’ that’s ridiculous,” he said. “That’s what makes them chuckleheads.”
Wallace then asked Kibbe about Sen. Paul’s filibuster and defense spending cuts that were enacted at the beginning of the month as part of the sequester. Kibbe said that Sen. Paul’s filibuster and its focus on civil liberties represented a “new GOP” and was a “healthy thing” because it challenged the status quo of both parties.
Kibbe also liked the idea of defense spending cuts. “[O]n defense, and on, frankly, any budget, any program, any department of the federal government, let’s all acknowledge that there is waste and things that need to be eliminated,” explained Kibbe. “And, a trimming of defense would be a very healthy thing.”
Kibbe also said that everything has to be on the table when it comes to spending, adding that the Republican Party had made a “mistake” to treat defense spending as a “sacred cow.”
But LaTourette was critical of the sequester, calling it a “ham-handed way of dealing with things” and complained about the defense spending cuts happened because of “because of the dysfunctions that exist.” When asked whether the Tea Party was adding to the dysfunction in Washington, LaTourette replied, “No, not at all.”
“I think the Tea Party is an important part of the coalition that is the Republican Party,” he added. “But my difficulty with not necessarily Mr. Kibbe’s group but others like his, is that there is some — now some kind of litmus test what makes a good Republican or a bad Republican.”
LaTourette said also blamed Mitt Romney’s loss on the Republican Party failing to “represent the whole country.” He added, “We don’t have one member of congress who is a Republican from the entire eastern sea coast. You get down to the Carolinas and Virginia. You can’t govern the country unless you look like the country.”
To rebut that point, Kibbe pointed to some of the electoral victories in purple states, including Ron Johnson in Wisconsin, Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania, and Marco Rubio in Florida. LaTourette countered by pointing out some of the tough losses because of flawed candidates, including Sharron Angle in Nevada and Richard Mourdock in Indiana.
When asked about Karl Rove’s Conservative Victory Project, which will focus on helping “electable conservatives” in party primaries and LaTourette’s group forming a PAC to help out centrist Republicans, Kibbe said, “ I think the definition of electable is what we’re debating and you look at who has been winning elections, it’s been interesting, exciting, young, energetic people like Ted Cruz, like Marco Rubio.”
“I think if you apply this sort of establishment litmus test which tends to be biased for people that are already in office, you’re not going to get that new energy. Would we have gotten Pat Toomey?” asked Kibbe. “Remember, Karl Rove supported Arlen Specter as far back as 2004, against Pat Toomey, because the logic was Pat Toomey can’t possibly win. Arlen Specter later flips party when it was convenient for him and became the 60th vote for Obamacare. So, I think we need to be careful about what it means to be electable.”
Kibbe added, “Certainly, the Tea Party doesn’t bat a thousand, but at least we’re winning elections. We’re bringing new people into the party. And we’re not in a position where the Democrats can jam something through 60 votes in the Senate because of the Tea Party.”
LaTourette also complained about scorecard from groups like FreedomWorks. He said, “[I]f you look at the key votes that some of these groups are scoring, and 18 votes was scored by Mr. Kibbe’s group out of a thousand that took place, last year. It’s not — you can make — it’s like a poll, you can make it look any way you want to.”
Groups like FreedomWorks and the Club for Growth, for example, score on economic issues that fit their stated mission, which are pro-free market economic policies. It should be noted that LaTourette has a dismal 54% lifetime score from FreedomWorks and 45% from the Club for Growth.
Given the last word by Wallace, Kibbe placed emphasis on the diverse group of new faces of the Republican Party, which are gaining in notoriety and becoming leaders. “I think if you look at the new Republican Party, the party that stands for something, you look at names like Tim Scott, and Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio and Raul Labrador and Justin Amash. Mia Love almost got through,” he explained. “This is the new future and it’s based on ideas. We don’t care about the color of your skin.”