WASHINGTON — The Republican Party’s “Freedom Caucus,” which has several less-charitable nicknames on Capitol Hill, is the dog that caught the car.
Having (sort of) unseated Speaker John Boehner, these 37 or so uber-conservative House members are now scrambling for “a real leader.”
Except that they aren’t really because they have no one with the skills, experience or legislative record to offer. The “brat pack,” as they are also known, had a leader in Boehner but were too self-obsessed to recognize it or to see much beyond their own immediate gratification and pontifical aspirations.
They came to Washington not to govern but to fight. But what does one make of a little boys’ club with nothing to show for themselves other than a record of disruption and a talent for tantrums?
“These are the guys who couldn’t get a prom date,” one House member said to me privately, “They’d rather rape and pillage than do the hard work. They can’t get to first base much less hit a home run.”
This person is plainly not a fan, but nor are other Republican congressmen who roll their eyes about caucus members who lecture them about the Constitution and rant about the debt. “Oh, thanks for telling us, moron,” says my hilltop muse. “We didn’t know.”
Now they can brag that they’ve deposed the speaker himself, which isn’t really true. Boehner probably could have prevailed in getting re-elected, but what for? His leadership style has always been to lead where his members want to go. Unfortunately, this led to the shutdown of 2013 and he wasn’t willing to lead them there again — especially not over, of all things, defunding Planned Parenthood. The most pro-life speaker in history knew this was the wrong battle at exactly the wrong time.
The opposition “won” not because of superior skills or strategy but because Boehner is far more principled than they. He just plays a longer game and understands what these pretenders are incapable of seeing. Shutting down the government hurts Republicans — and it will hurt the GOP’s chances of winning the White House next year. Meanwhile, the narrative that Boehner was an ineffective leader, a storyline long advanced by the Freedom Caucus and beloved by President Obama (hint, hint, boys). Only a conservative could love Boehner’s record, which included cutting $2.4 trillion from the deficit mostly from the spending side and without tax increases. Boehner has been a leader in free trade and is the only speaker to successfully sue the president over separation of powers. Finally, and ironically, he was a tireless campaigner and fundraiser — even for his persecutors.
Boehner’s successor will almost certainly be Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who was one of the self-declared “young guns” of the House, a posse that also included House Ways and Means Chairman Paul Ryan and former Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia. Cantor, the then-majority leader, was defeated in 2014 by economics professor and now-Freedom Caucus member Dave Brat.
The No. 2 position of majority leader is also up for grabs among Majority Whip Steve Scalise, known for having once spoken to a white supremacist group, and Georgia Rep. Tom Price, who has received the powerful endorsements from Ryan and Texas Rep. Jeb Hensarling.
Missing from the contest is the lone woman in the GOP leadership, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who considered running but announced Monday night that she would not. Currently chair of the House Republican Conference, she would have been the first female majority leader in history. (Democrat Nancy Pelosi was minority leader before becoming speaker in 2007.)
There is a sense among many women on the hill that the boys won again, as in, we’ve got a girl in the No. 4 job, we don’t need her in No. 2. Although this may be true to some extent, others see an alternative scenario — a long-game strategy in the Boehner tradition. Rodgers is well liked and may have elected to bide her time. She’s a steady presence and a leader to be reckoned with — and she’s not going anywhere.
The Freedom Caucus, alas, isn’t either, thanks to gerrymandering that makes their jobs secure except from an even more-conservative Republican challenger. One hopes for sanity’s sake that voters in the relevant districts will begin to see that though they love a fighter, they need one who has something to offer upon winning, other than whining.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for the Washington Post. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.