FreedomWorks, a top Tea Party organization recently triumphant for bringing "beautiful chaos" to the right, is suddenly falling apart into a kind of chaos of its own. A clash over the group's "direction" has taken place in the last 24 hours — not that anyone will say what that direction is, exactly. Dick Armey, the FreedomWorks since 2003, quit late Monday and is now demanding that the group immediately stop using his likeness. Several top FreedomWorks staffers quit following Armey, Roll Call's Janie Lorber reports, including vice president Max Pappas, and campaign director Brendan Steinhauser. (Update: Freedomworks says they did not leave because of Armey.) "The top management team of FreedomWorks was taking a direction I thought was unproductive, and I thought it was time to move on with my life," Armey told Mother Jones' David Corn and Andy Kroll. What could that direction be?
Update: FreedomWorks executive vice president Adam Brandon says the staffers who left did not do so because of Armey. "There are 50 employees here, at any given moment there's someone coming and going, especially at the end of the year."
Update II: Politico reports the dispute was not over direction, but over Kibbe's book deal.
Roll Call provides one possible clue about the direction: "[Executive vice president Adam] Brandon confirmed that he and the group’s president and CEO, Matt Kibbe, were placed on administrative leave for several days in early September, but declined to discuss the circumstances of the board’s decision to temporarily remove them from the staff." Brandon told the paper that action "goes back to the direction issue." What was happening in late August and early September? The Republican National Convention.
Kibbe — you might remember him from his sideburns, at right — spoke at the Republican National Convention in late August, and was part of the big rules fight between the party and supporters of Ron Paul. Establishment Republicans changed the rules so that Paul couldn't be nominated from the convention floor, and his vote totals weren't repeated by the states, and they weren't displayed on the big screens, and delegates' pro-Paul signs were forbidden. Kibbe was pro-Paul. He told told Slate's Dave Weigel on August 29 that the GOP is scared of "beautiful chaos," but will ultimately lose. "Mitt Romney will be the last Republican nominee chosen by the insiders," Kibbe said.
Despite his role at FreedomWorks, Armey was certainly an insider — he held the position of House Majority Leader for eight years. And you wonder if Armey's fellow insiders are a bit frustrated with the "beautiful chaos" Kibbe wants. Right now, the chaos is over the fiscal cliff, and, as it did during the 2011 debt limit fight, the Tea Party wing of House Republicans is not making it easy for Speaker John Boehner to negotiate a deal. Neither is FreedomWorks. In a press release dated December 3, for example, Kibbe railed against Boehner for stripping uncooperative conservative congressmen from committee positions. Kibbe said:
Is there room in the House Republican Conference for legislators who believe that Washington is spending too much money it does not have? Based on this remarkably hostile act by leadership, the answer may be no. This is a clear attempt on the part of Republican leadership to punish those in Washington who vote the way they promised their constituents they would — on principle — instead of mindlessly rubber-stamping trillion dollar deficits and the bankrupting of America.
Kibbe urged activists to call Boehner and pressure him.
We can't help but wonder if the fight over direction had something to do with the elevation of Tea Party activists and lawmakers. When asked why Armey quit so abruptly, Kibbe told told The Wall Street Journal, "I’ve been in this town long enough to see people come and see people go, and Dick decided he wanted to retire... That’s just the way Dick is." We could be wrong, but that sounds like the tone someone who won in a fight.
Update: Brandon wouldn't comment on what "direction" was in dispute, saying there was "a difference of opinion with Armey... but other than that we're pretty excited." Brandon said FreedomWorks isn't focused on one party or the other; instead, "the main thing we're trying to do is build a fiscal conservative community." In 2013, the group plans to do some outreach to Latinos modeled on its "black and youth outreach" program.