ORLANDO -- The head of an influential Tea Party group that has been outspoken against Mitt Romney signaled Friday that their opposition to the former Massachusetts governor is softening as Rick Perry falters.
"Romney has an opportunity to rehabilitate himself," Matt Kibbe, chairman and CEO of FreedomWorks, told The Huffington Post in an interview.
Perry, the Texas governor, who entered the race about six weeks ago, has stumbled after a meteoric start, Kibbe said.
"It looks to me like Rick Perry has been buttoned down by political handlers. He was being very cautious last night. It was as if someone told him he wasn't allowed to say what he wanted to say, so he sort of fumbled a couple things," Kibbe said.
Kibbe said Perry should be more authentic, but that if he does not change course, "he's got a problem."
"What Tea Partiers are looking for is someone that stands for something, but also someone that shows the political skills to win. It's not enough to be right and lose. The goal here is to win the presidency," Kibbe said.
In May, Kibbe and other FreedomWorks officials told HuffPost that they wanted to stop Romney from being the Republican nominee.
The group protested Romney at a campaign event in New Hampshire earlier this month. Just three weeks ago, FreedomWorks' Vice President of Public Policy Max Pappas wrote on the group's website: "We support free markets, constitutionally limited government, and fiscal responsibility and we oppose politicians from both parties who do not. Romney does not, so we oppose him."
But when HuffPost asked Kibbe if it would be a defeat for the Tea Party if Romney becomes the GOP nominee, Kibbe answered: "It depend on what Romney wins the nomination."
"I think there's still a possibility for Romney to define himself. He's entrenched on health care and we just disagree on that. But you know, what if he came up with a bold tax reform plan? What if he came up, as he has promised to do, with a plan to reform entitlements and balance the budget? I would be open for all of these guys to be better than they are today," Kibbe said.
Kibbe defined the Tea Party this way: "[It's] not an organization. It's a set of values."
Then he returned to the issue of electability -- who can beat President Obama in the general election -- which is a core part of Romney's argument for why he should be the Republican nominee.
"What we're looking for is the candidate that best combines an authentic belief in the values of limited government, and has the ability to win a national campaign," Kibbe said. "For all of our reputation as strident ideologues, I think Tea Partiers are quite practical when it comes to politics. They're looking at electable candidates."
Video by Sara Kenigsberg.
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