The House Freedom Caucus and Its Critics

Christopher DeMuth has long been one of the more distinguished leaders in the conservative intellectual movement.  As such, his views warrant a very high degree of respect.  In a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, he contends that members of the House Freedom Caucus — a group of about 40 -50 highly conservative House Republicans elected with Tea Party support — are motivated more by opportunities for political theater and individual showmanship than by legislative accomplishments. (“The Decline and Fall of Congress,” Oct. 19, 2015)  In this case, Mr. DeMuth is wrong.

In making his argument, he offers the time worn idea that legislators must “go along to get along” and be willing to make trades and compromises in order to achieve desired legislative ends.  In Mr. DeMuth’s view, the process rewards those who are satisfied with incremental change.  Because the Freedom Caucus resists compromise, it must therefore hold political theater and showmanship more important than actual progress toward its ostensible long run goal to restore a limited federal government consistent with free people and free markets.

Although Mr. DeMuth’s argument may have some merit in the short run, it neglects the persistent failure of establishment Republicans to achieve real and permanent reversal of an ever growing federal government.  The fact is that establishment Republicans, notwithstanding campaigning to the contrary in election after election, have been fully complicit with Democrats in supporting anti-free-market and liberty-infringing legislation.  Examples include corporate welfare such as ethanol mandates, price controls such as federal minimum wages, uncritical support of a Federal Reserve that monetizes deficit spending, and an incomprehensible tax code.  Perhaps if just once establishment Republicans stood on the principles that they profess to hold, the Freedom Caucus might be more amenable to the kind of legislative compromise and incrementalism that Mr. DeMuth thinks more effective.  But the fact is that this show of principle never occurs.

Case in point is the current real opportunity to kill the Export Import Bank, which subsidizes foreign consumers by shifting credit risk onto U.S. taxpayers.  Authorization for the Bank ran out earlier this year, but Republican Leadership in the Senate — even though claiming to be opposed to reauthorizing the Bank — has used procedural gimmicks to provide still another vote on reauthorization in order to appease establishment Republicans as well as Democrats.  In the House, establishment Republicans have gone so far as to seek out and align with Democrats to force a vote that will give new life to the Bank.  Is it really any wonder that Freedom Caucus members distrust their establishment colleagues?