The Freedom Caucus of the House of Representatives has been the most reliably conservative group of legislators during the Obama administration. They have routinely been a thorn in the side of establishment Republicans as well as Democrats, standing up for conservative principles when no one else would. So how will they operate under the new president?
Tim Alberta of National Review wrote a nice piece a few days ago outlining the Freedom Caucus’ response to Donald Trump’s election:
Many in the GOP believe they are entering a metamorphic period in the modern histories of both Republicanism and conservatism, one in which their intertwined loyalties and ideologies and dogmas could be scrambled and realigned. Conservatives in particular tend to believe this is a good thing, and rejoice in the reality that Trump, while not philosophically allied with them in some areas, nonetheless represents the culmination of their years-long assault on the establishment…
…it explains why most Freedom Caucus members refused to criticize Trump during the GOP primary, and why they enthusiastically backed him during the general: He didn’t run on the same promises of ideological purity that they did, but he spread the same message of disrupting the status quo in D.C….
…All of this is a gamble, of course, as Trump’s ideology is disjointed at best and his core philosophy on the appropriate role of government is anyone’s guess. So while his presidency represents a prime opportunity for conservatives to influence the direction of the party and the country, it also threatens to redefine Republicanism in a way that is hostile toward traditional concepts of limited government. In some areas, no doubt, Trump’s agenda will mesh nicely with these principles. When it inevitably does not, conservatives will find themselves facing a quandary: Fall in line and risk damaging the credibility of conservatism, or push back and risk provoking a thin-skinned and Twitter-addicted president.
Further complicating things is the fact that Trump dominated — in the primary and general elections — those districts represented by Congress’s most conservative members. They once believed they were elected to advance a narrowly ideological agenda, but Trump’s success has given them reason to question that belief. Knowing this, GOP leadership officials are betting that Trump’s popularity among conservative constituents will make their representatives less obstructionist and therefore less influential in the upcoming Congress.
Well that sounds promising. Not only are many conservatives aligning with Trump because of his promise to break up Washington, but they’re also forced to follow him wherever he goes because their own constituents voted for him in large numbers. They’re only one Trump tweet-storm away from being severely hindered in their re-election campaigns.
This is the problem with aligning with people based on style and not on principles. Anyone remember the famous Thomas Jefferson quote? “In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.” Members of the Freedom Caucus have subjugated themselves to Trump because his anti-establishment style seemed appealing. But anti-establishment in favor of what? When the answer is not conservative, and Freedom Caucus members make their effort to stand like a rock, they’ll be under enough pressure to turn those rocks into Trumpian diamonds.
Then there’s the matter of whether Trump is even anti-establishment at all, and I’ve long suggested he’s not. The more Trump sides with the Ryan-McConnell-Priebus trio, the more conservatives will be damaged down the road because they’ll be pushed to the outskirts of Republican politics… But that doesn’t have to be the case!
Conservatives must not let themselves be tied to Trump’s political success. He can’t be controlled. He won’t be reliable. His tendencies are big-government. No. Conservatives must go to work now rebuilding the movement so that they’ll never again be subject to a big-government pragmatist who promises their constituents everything but can deliver nothing because, big surprise, the government can’t solve problems. Just ask the millions of Americans dependent on welfare how government promises have worked out for them.
Persuasion and resistance, not capitulation, need to be the focal points of the next four years. If conservatives approve a trillion dollar infrastructure plan or 35% tariffs… it’s going to be a long road back to limited, constitutional government. Good guys need to remain the good guys.