All I can say is that it was worth the price of admission to be in the nation’s capital in October when House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., withdrew his name from consideration to become the next speaker of the House.
Two blocks from the Capitol, the scene at the Republican Club was a sight to behold. Lobbyists were on their cell phones, frantically updating their respective clients, and trying to sound as if they knew what just had transpired.
Others were just downright apoplectic. I ran into one lobbyist who was heavily “invested” in McCarthy’s rise, and his demeanor and pallor were that of a man who had just received the news that a loved one had passed. He was in mourning — not for a relative — but for the access he had just lost. He had bet big on McCarthy for speaker, and his horse had just lost.
The media reported that Republicans in the House were in chaos and the “hardliners” were responsible for the mess. The fact is that McCarthy committed a huge unforced error, one that brought about his own downward trajectory — and that was when he stated that the Benghazi committee was primarily a political tool of the GOP.
The legitimate inquiry by Rep. Trey Gowdy’s committee to reveal the truth behind the Obama team’s response to the terrorist attack in Libya — where four Americans were murdered — was undermined by McCarthy’s statement on cable news blatantly politicizing the investigation.
Maybe worst of all for McCarthy’s fate was that he was his boss’s hand-picked successor, and was viewed by the media as the speaker-in-waiting. If McCarthy considered the Benghazi investigation to be a partisan weapon, then in the media’s eyes, the Republican caucus must think so, too.
Outgoing Speaker John Boehner of Ohio endorsed McCarthy, and to reform-minded conservatives of the legislative Freedom Caucus, that represented business as usual.
Led by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and North Carolina’s own Mark Meadows, The Freedom Caucus was concerned less about who the next speaker should be and more about what he or she should do.
Many Freedom Caucus members had been elected in the class of 2010 and were committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare and also reversing President Obama’s executive actions on amnesty. They are intent on reducing the size and scope of government and ending crony capitalism. They also abhor what is transpiring at Planned Parenthood and are committed to keeping their promises to their constituents back home. They are tired of show votes and legislation that never reaches Obama’s desk. And they want to reform the way the House does business.
The Freedom Caucus has a reform agenda. The top-down management style of Boehner and his various committee chairmen was — and is — a centralized process with little room for dissent. The Freedom Caucus wants to decentralize the way Congress works, not to promote chaos, but to advance a conservative agenda.
In my lifetime in politics, I have lived through two major waves or disruptions in the Republican Party: “The Reagan Revolution” of the 1980s and “The Gingrich Revolution” of the 1990s.
Both strengthened the Republican Party and — by the way — were good for the country.
The Freedom Caucus could represent the Third Wave.
Marc Rotterman is a senior fellow at the John Locke Foundation.