The FreedomWorks Coup that Almost Was
This past September, it appears the conservative lobbying group FreedomWorks was the site of what has to be one of the strangest failed coups in memory.
The Washington Post published Amy Gardner’s reporting of the story on Christmas Day; consequently, it has gone largely unnoticed. (It would have slipped by me if it hadn’t been for League regular Dan Miller, who alerted me to it this morning.) This is a shame, as the specifics of the failed FreedomWorks takeover are so entertaining that it’s hard to remember as you read about it that Gardner is describing actual events, and not the plot to a new Coen Brothers movie.
I highly recommend that you read the Gardner’s entire story, but the highlights are well worth noting here:
In September, Freedom Works’ board chair Dick Armey (yes, that Dick Armey) entered the lobbying group’s Washington, DC office with his wife and an unnamed aide; they were there to fire key staff members and take control of the day-to-day operations. The aide, whose sole function appears to have been escorting confused employees out of the building, bizarrely did so with a holstered pistol around his waist. Some of the female employees burst into tears when they were told to hit the road; this so unnerved Armey that he then asked them to stay. According to the employees that survived the culling, while addressing the remaining staff Armey’s wife would write down notes of what to say; Armey would then take and read them aloud.
For all of its strangeness, however, the attempted coup does act as a fascinating microcosm of the power struggles currently raging inside the American right wing.
Much is still uncertain, and there may have been more than one reason for this power struggle. One reason, certainly, may have been that clichéd question behind so many organizational disputes: who gets the largest slice of the pie? A year earlier Armey and FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe had co-written Give Us Liberty: A Tea Party Manifesto. This summer Kibbe penned his own book without Armey’s assistance, and it was at the tail end of Kibbe’s conservative media book tour spotlight that Armey grabbed the reigns.
However, it’s hard not to believe there weren’t other, more political struggles going on here – struggles that will seem all too familiar those who followed Jason Kusnicki’s insider musings on the Koch’s attempted coup of Cato last spring.
Armey is by all accounts a social conservative. In fact, employees say that one of his intended goals when he took over FreedomWorks was putting some significant coin into the coffers of Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akins. When he was a member of Congress, he would openly and frequently refer to Congressman Barney Frank as “Barney Fag.” He is also a member of the GOP’s Olde Guarde. Kibbe, on the other hand, is an unabashed libertarian. His book Hostile Takeover: Resisting Centralized Government’s Stranglehold Over America makes the argument that the entire Washington system itself needs to go – including the Republican Olde Guarde. Just as the wars within both the GOP and the Tea Party show, Armey and Kibbe’s fissure is a sign that words like “Freedom” and “Liberty” mean very different things to different people. In many ways, the different corners of the America’s right wing are one another’s most natural political enemies.
Armey’s coup only lasted a few days. Less than a week after his (literally) armed takeover, he agreed to quietly step down from the organization in exchange for a cool $8 million. With Armey gone, FreedomWorks never did waste millions of dollars on a quixotic campaign to fund a Senate candidate who had said foolish things about rape. Instead, it wasted that money on a quixotic campaign to fund a House candidate who suggested women only care about clothes and publically pooh-poohed his opponent’s losing her legs in the war. (It was not a particularly good election for conservative PAC decision makers.)
After the election, of course, FreedomWorks would go on bridge the gap between its disparate arms using the strategy the GOP and its media machine have been using for years: combining forces to conquer an entirely fictional foe.