FreedomWorks chief: If Romney’s the nominee, tea partiers might have to stay home

posted at 4:10 pm on June 10, 2011 by Allahpundit

Don’t look now, but between this and Amy Kremer’s comments on Fox last weekend, we’ve got a bona fide tea-party split over Mitt.

I knew that FreedomWorks was intent on torpedoing him in the primary but I didn’t think they’d take it quite this far quite so soon. Better Obama II than Romney I?

If Mitt Romney wins the Republican nomination for president, Tea Party activists may not show up at all to vote in the general election, one leading group associated with the Tea Party movement is warning.

“I think that’s a potential problem,” said Matt Kibbe, FreedomWorks’ president, during a wide-ranging interview with reporters at The Daily Caller.

He also warned that if Republicans nominate another “John McCain,” activists might even vote third party in 2012.

“I believe in redemption, but at some point, you sort of give up,” he said. “And we’ve given up on Mitt Romney.”

An idle threat? Potentially not:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely U.S. Voters finds that in a three-way congressional contest with a Tea Party candidate on the ballot, the Democrat picks up 40% of the vote. The Republican earns 21% support, while nearly as many (18%) favor the Tea Party candidate. Twenty-one percent (21%), however, remain undecided…

In the new survey, the Tea Party candidate draws 28% support from GOP voters, while 85% of Democrats back their party’s candidate. Just 45% of Republicans support the Republican candidate in the three-way matchup. Among voters not affiliated with either of the major parties, 15% like the Republican, 29% the Democrat and 25% the Tea Party candidate.

When asked about Romney’s rivals, Kibbe told the DC that Cain could be vulnerable for his TARP position and that, while he likes Palin, “she needs to prove that she can study up.” Where does that leave FreedomWorks at the moment, then? With Bachmann? I’m skeptical given their approach to the Castle/O’Donnell primary in Delaware. While other tea-party heroes like Palin and DeMint lined up behind O’D, Kibbe told the Christian Science Monitor at the time, “We stayed out of that race because we are not convinced that Christine O’Donnell can win.” Bachmann’s a longer shot for the nomination than O’Donnell was in her Senate race, so presumably she’s not an option for them. Maybe they’re holding out for Perry to jump in? Or maybe, per their O’Donnell logic, they’re going to invest in Pawlenty as a conservative yet electable candidate.

It’s worth flagging this if for no other reason than as a sneak preview of how wrenching Romney’s nomination could be within the party, especially among activists. The possibility of people staying home in protest is real but it’s already priced into his stock; what hasn’t been fully considered yet is the prospect of rifts opening within the grassroots and between tea party groups as people choose sides between the Kibbe and Kremer approaches. Any group that bolsters Obama’s chances by walking away will be so vilified afterwards that they’ll be essentially committing themselves to a fully third-party identity. Maybe FreedomWorks will think better of that strategy — Kibbe could simply be bluffing to nudge people towards nominating someone else — but “we’ve given up on Mitt Romney” is pretty high-stakes.

Update: Tabitha Hale of FreedomWorks tweets that we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions:

The piece didn’t say it was “purity” or Obama at all. In fact, Kibbe actually said opposite – that he was CONCERNED about that.

We’re willing to rally, right now we’re not sure around who – but this is the time to duke it out.

Okay, but if there’s a chance the group might grudgingly support Romney in the interest of beating Obama, why drop “we’ve given up on Mitt Romney” on him now?

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