Depending on how the next year and a half shakes out, we could be standing on the precipice of real change in the Republican Party. The turmoil that has engulfed both the House of Representatives and the GOP presidential race clearly demonstrates that something fundamental is happening on the ground. Fed up with lies, fed up with an unstoppable liberal tyrant, and fed up with spineless RINOs, conservatives are ready to burn the party to the ground if it means a phoenix might rise from the ashes.
The controversy over the next House Speaker has both liberal and conservative writers declaring the Republican Party a house of dysfunction. The shocking news of John Boehner’s retirement was almost immediately followed by the shocking news that Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was removing his name from contention. If anyone thought that the Tea Party had peaked back in the days of Sarah Palin, one look at Congress today is enough to see otherwise.
Of course, it’s a simplification to say this is somehow a battle between real conservatives and moderates. Both Boehner and McCarthy have extraordinary conservative credentials. No one would question either man’s principles. On the flipside, there are plenty of “hardliner” congressmen whose beliefs are only a shade to the right of Jeb Bush’s. The difference isn’t so much an ideological one – it’s about what to do with those principles when push comes to shove.
It’s the same on the ground, although in the real world the lines between principle and ideology are a little blurrier. No one but the most dedicated political gadfly has a real understanding of the complexities of the federal government (especially at this size), which means the big ideas come to the forefront. A fraction of conservatives care about the Trans-Pacific Partnership in any meaningful way; it’s much easier to get your head around a Mexican wall.
Either way, it comes to the same thing. Conservative voters don’t want to hear about how much money the Republican Congress has saved since 2012. We want to know why President Obama is free to break the law on immigration reform. We want to know why Republicans weren’t able to stop the Iranian deal. We want to know why a party with majorities in the House and Senate is seemingly powerless.
According to the establishment types, it’s because of the Freedom Caucus – the hardliners who have been largely credited with Boehner’s resignation. These 40 or 50 legislators act as a third party, unwilling to cooperate on even the smallest compromises. And Boehner-allies like Rep. Pete King have been all over the news singing this song as loudly as possible, hoping it finds an audience somewhere.
You can’t blame them for trying, but this is a train that has already left the station. The Republicans in the Freedom Caucus are beholden to constituencies that elected them precisely because they promised to change things up. And unlike the old guard, they seem intent on following through with that promise.