In February 2009, Michael Flynn was drinking coffee when he saw CNBC’s Rick Santelli launch into a now-legendary diatribe on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, issuing a call for a “Chicago tea party” to dump high-risk securities into Lake Michigan.
“I remember spitting it out when Santelli did his rant,” said Flynn. “What it told me was that the policy debate hadn’t been settled”¦. I, like many others, consider that the birth of the tea-party movement.”
During the next election cycle, Flynn helped pizzeria owner Bobby Schilling unseat then-Rep. Phil Hare, D-Ill., in a predominantly Democratic district. Schilling won by 11 points. “We took it aggressively to [Hare] every day and defined what the race was about,” Flynn said. “We dominated the conversation and made it about freedom. There’s no counter to that.”
A self-described foe of “crony capitalism,” the Breitbart.com columnist has watched with dismay as the Republican establishment has strengthened its ties with corporate America. “When I moved to Washington 17 years ago, the interstate was all Fords and Toyotas,” he said. “Now, it’s all BMWs and Mercedes.”
Last month, Flynn joined the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund as political director. The super PAC, affiliated with the Tea Party Patriots, will not just saturate the airwaves with messaging, Flynn said, but also “put boots on the ground.”
On the rift between GOP leaders and the tea party, Flynn argues that it is the Republican establishment that has declared war on the party’s insurgent wing, not the other way around.
“Everyone was prepared to go to war against progressives in November,” Flynn said. “Then, out of the blue, the Republicans, the Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, Karl Rove, and all these people decided to take on the tea party. We’re going to have to fight back, although it’s not what we want to do. They’re the ones who started this fight. They won’t finish it, but they started it.”
Asked why he has decided to return to politicking, Flynn said that the coming election will be a “pivot point” on matters like Obamacare and the effect of an aging population on the country’s fiscal health.
“This election is so consequential that I felt I wanted to get my hands dirty and do what I can,” he said. “With the retirement of the baby boomers, we’re about to have a whole different set of budget problems than we had before. We are coming to a point at which more Americans depend on support from the government than contribute to the government.”
A native of Illinois, Flynn was introduced to the writings of Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek when he was in the eighth grade. He studied English and economics at the University of Iowa.
“It was a situation where nobody trusted me,” he said. “The literature people were like, ‘Oh, he’s the economics guy.’ And the economics people were like, ‘Oh, he’s that Writers’ Workshop guy.’”
After graduating, Flynn ran a Coca-Cola bottling plant in southeastern Iowa and then enlisted in a series of congressional and state-level Republican campaigns back in Illinois. “I did it on a lark,” he said. “I had never taken a political science class in my life.”
In the years that followed, he managed three campaigns, beating two incumbents, and was involved in nine others.
At some point, Flynn became disillusioned with the Republican Party. “I felt that we had lost the political-policy debate, and it was basically going to be a managed decline.”
All that changed with Santelli’s screed. Rather than an insurgent wing of the GOP, Flynn equates the tea party with the American public. “It is not some club draped in flags,” he said. “It’s all of us. It’s anyone who is economically anxious and scared of the future. It’s anyone who says, ‘Enough is enough!’ “
Flynn, 46, lives in Alexandria, Va., with his wife and four children.