The Right Resistance: Conservatives beat the House establishment, but don’t ease up yet
“Weeeeee are the champions, my friend. And we’ll keep on fighting ‘til the end,” – from Queen’s “We Are The Champions”, a 1970’s (and 80’s) rock anthem that will live on in eternity. Wherever there are competitions -- and champions -- to celebrate, this lyrical tribute usually isn’t far behind.
I didn’t watch the University of Georgia’s smashing 65-7 win (over TCU) in college football’s national championship game the other night and hence did not hear whether the team (or TV network) had “We Are The Champions” playing as the final gun sounded, but you can bet somewhere in The Peach State, revelers were enjoying the refrain. It goes along with sweet victory, doesn’t it?
Likewise, the Republican conservatives who engineered the dramatic triumph of process and ideology last week during the struggle to confirm a new House Speaker could just as easily have rocked to “We Are The Champions” after former Minority Leader – and new Speaker – Kevin McCarthy agreed to a rules package proposal that would guarantee emboldened conservatives a much larger say in the chamber’s governance from then on.
It is true that McCarthy deserves recognition for maintaining his composure when things looked bleak and somewhat hopeless over the course of four long days, but the bulk of the credit goes to the group of 20 conservatives who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer despite the weight of the DC establishment – and the world – coming down on them.
One of their fellow Republicans even called them “terrorists” in the heat of the moment for pressuring McCarthy to give-in to what they wanted. Terrorists? That’s a little over-the-top, even for a dedicated Washington establishmentarian, don’t you think?
Nevertheless, the good guys (and gals) won in the end. In a piece titled “In McCarthy Negotiations, GOP Landed On ‘Most Significant Win For Conservatives In A Decade’”, Emily Jashinsky wrote at The Federalist:
“From 30,000 feet, a four-day delay in the speaker vote is hardly the outrage pundits framed it as. The rules package is mostly unobjectionable institutionalism. Sure, it’s remarkable (House Freedom Caucus) HFC won these concessions, but only because party leadership in D.C. is so unaccustomed to losing. The press painted all of the HFC with the same broad brush and missed the real story: They out-negotiated leadership and changed the House in a serious way…
“[McCarthy] found a way to win on Friday, but the hard part is just beginning. The real story of McCarthy’s winding road to the speakership is bigger than he is, bigger than the GOP, and bigger than the 118th Congress.”
Or we can only hope that’s the case. Part of me is ecstatic that the 20 conservative heroes defied the odds and the longings of the ever-impatient establishment media class – and boatloads of Republicans, too – to stay apostate until the 15th vote late on a Friday night. Only the diehard-i-est of the diehards were still tuned to Fox News or CSPAN or whatever network carried the slow-moving theatrics to their ultimate conclusion, but these resilient souls were rewarded with a resounding victory that will, as Jashinsky indicated, reverberate for generations – or hopefully at least a couple more years.
The other, skeptical part of me won’t allow for a playing of “We are the Champions” just yet. What’s the old saying about touching a hot stove and never doing it again? The GOP establishment’s burned we conservatives way too many times to be willing and eager to trust them without proof of sincerity now. How often were we limited government proponents promised, over and over, that this time things would be different and that no bill would ever be advanced to the House floor without sufficient support to pass it with Republican votes alone?
Every year, it seems, Republican House members go on a “retreat” and do lots of official hand-holding, Kumbaya singing and “smores” roasting ‘round a federal goodwill fire only to return to Washington and have the chamber leaders return to their old ways of making excuses, fostering deals with the enemy and always cutting off debate without eliminating or vastly curtailing useless programs. Then they’d unceremoniously jog down to Nancy Pelosi’s office to beg for Democrat votes to move something along whenever conservatives didn’t approve.
It's happened on too many occasions to recount. Why didn’t the GOP establishment leaders back then simply ask recognized conservatives why they were always in trouble with the party base? Similarly, will Kevin McCarthy truly have absorbed his lessons from the past and set the House schedule according to the new rules and direction? If so, it would appear that the Californian’s job is more than easy – it will be a cakewalk.
This doesn’t mean everything the Freedom Caucus members – and the conservative GOP grassroots – wants will be pounded through the House like so many nails in a new roof being put in down the street, but at least it will be the RINOs who are the holdouts next time and they’ll be exposed before the planet as “obstructionists” and for stalling the momentum of conservative progress.
And conservative progress equates to government reform, a tightening of the old ship and, going out on a limb here, a return to the way things used to be done in the so-called “People’s House” prior to the onset of annual continuing resolutions and omnibus budget bills. Recall a time when both Houses of Congress spent a large portion of their session time compiling appropriations bills to feed the massive federal beast, all the while holding committee hearings, mark-ups and actually voting on amendments.
The final product was always unsatisfactory – too big – but at least they tried getting it right.
Conservatives dream of something similar from McCarthy and the new Congress. From initial reports, McCarthy is indeed keeping his promises, including placing prominent conservatives in crucial committee positions so as to steer debate and legislation. Politics junkies will have something to watch in the coming session instead of relying on leaks from the Speaker’s office to the establishment media – and the few hours of review time before a final vote is called on a bill.
The vaunted group of 20 conservatives were derided as cretins and deniers while they asked for simple rules alterations that nearly everyone – including McCarthy himself – should’ve been onboard with since the first hour. Now, once the dust has settled, they look like republic savers for simply insisting that the Speaker cede more authority to the rank and file.
Some conservatives – such as Kansas’s Tim Huelskamp – tried to move the needle in the past only to be put in their place by the powerful Republican leadership for speaking out of turn.
These folks were heroes and precursors for what was to come. Because the Republican House majority margin was so small this time, conservatives saw an opening to back leadership in a corner and command concessions. But it still took fortitude for the faction within a faction to maintain their stances when 200 of their fellow Republicans were staring them down each time a vote was taken and failed to result in an elected Speaker.
Will this, as Jashinsky insisted, turn out to be the most significant conservative victory in a decade?
Conservatives can hope for the best, but expectations for real policy improvement should be tempered at best. The fight over raising the notorious “debt ceiling” will arrive soon enough, and this will be the first real test of Kevin McCarthy’s resolve to battle for long-term reforms. Democrats and their establishment media allies – and a good many RINO Republicans – will go overboard (as they usually do) in forecasting doom if the United States government isn’t allowed to borrow all the money liberals require to keep the welfare fires roaring.
On the Democrat side, Nancy Pelosi’s replacement, new House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, exhibits no signs of working with those who disagree with the socialist direction of the party. In the 80’s, Ronald Reagan could count on conservative Democrats to support his tax cuts and other common-sense initiatives, but those cooperative days are over.
Then there’s Chucky Schumer waiting in the senate to depict any House Republican effort to trim federal spending as pushing grandma over a cliff or taking food out of the mouths of children. Republican senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is also still around and he will likely bend over backwards to accommodate Schumer’s whims so as to avoid perceived damage to the establishment’s political fortunes. Unfortunately, some things never change. McConnell is no champion, that’s for sure.
It's tempting to want to declare total victory – and play “We Are The Champions” – after conservatives forced Speaker Kevin McCarthy to agree to do things differently this Congress, but there are many, many more miles to go on the road to correcting the badly broken federal government. Let’s feel good about what we accomplished, but the work continues. Let’s get to it.
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