FreedomWorks' Matt Kibbe: "I think the Establishment's freaking out"


On Tuesday, during the normally boring rules-and-roll-call portion of the festivities, the Republican National Convention erupted in some contentious and confusing disputes between the GOP establishment and delegates associated with both Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and the Tea Party. Today I asked Matt Kibbe, president and CEO of the Tea Party-assisting political group FreedomWorks, to explain what it all meant.

"I think the Republican establishment is struggling with how to manage this very decentralized world we live in, and you saw signs of their acknowledgement on the stage like last night," Kibbe said. "It wasn't remotely about Mitt Romney, it was about giving various voices and agendas and constituencies a voice at the convention.

"The opposite of that is coming in late Friday afternoon and dropping a dramatic rules change on the table, and thinking that it won't get Tweeted out immediately and that people wouldn't notice. And I think that's a fascinating clash–they're trying to figure out how to deal with the Ron Paul guys, they're trying to figure out how to deal with the Tea Partiers, all of whom have become part of the process. They're delegates now, they're playing by the rules, and really I think fundamentally transforming the party, and I think the Establishment's freaking out a little about that. […] Literally in every delegation I've spoken to, formally or informally and just walking around, there are Tea Party delegates all over the place; they've really embedded themselves into the process."

What was the dispute about?

"So there's two rules–15, which is now 16, and we succeeded in pushing back on the power grab that was proposed on Friday afternoon, and it is complicated: the candidate can no longer simply disavow anyone he suspects doesn't toe the party line. There's a more complicated process than that; the delegate can show up, and once the delegate reveals himself to not be doing what he said he would do, then there's consequences. And that matters a lot.

"The safety valve for the Establishment is Rule 12, and Rule 12 says that the Republican chairman can change rules any time he wants, and that means that they could try to pull one of these fast ones again. You know, they could convene next week and try to sneak something past.

"The problem is there's this thing called the Internet, and Twitter, and the ability to discover these things in real time, and this is what worries me about the Republican Establishment: If they didn't know this was coming, they still don't understand the nature of this decentralized world we live in."

Are the Tea Partiers storming off, or grinning and bearing it?

"They were a little hacked off, but they're more resolved, they're not walking away from the process, they're going to keep showing up. And I think that's the lesson: We actually follow the rules, we play by the rules, and when Establishment Republicans don't like the rules, they change 'em."

Is the limited-government tendency on the grow within the GOP, or getting clubbed back into its place?

"Well, we have a seat at the table, but it's still a minority position, and clearly the Establishment would love to go back to the way they were. But I think they're starting to grudgingly acknowledge that something's changed and they have to adapt. Politicians adapt, right? They always respond to incentives, that's what we understand from Public Choice theory."

And is there anything at all to indicate that Republican leadership is taking the idea off cutting government seriously?

"I'm more positive about the [Paul] Ryan nomination. I happen to think that Ryan is a real market guy–I know all of his flaws, I know all of his bad votes, but by choosing Ryan the Party has conceded that it actually has to defend these ideas, including entitlement reform. All of the straw men that Obama is throwing at them, they now have to respond, and I think that's an important shift in the campaign that Romney was running, because he was running a campaign about nothing except that Obama is bad."

Nick Gillespie interviewed Matt Kibbe earlier this summer: