This is a blog, not a history lesson. But I can’t resist trying to make some sense of the current Republican desire for self-immolation.
Where has this so-called “Hell No Caucus” come from? Whether it is refusing to pass bills to fund the government, approve increases in the debt ceiling or provide money for the Department of Homeland Security, the Republican Party has an increasingly apparent and growing antagonism to pragmatic solutions. It has drifted so far right that it is truly in danger of self-destruction. As New York Republican Rep. Peter King, put it on ABC’s “This Week,” “[T]here’s a wing within the Congress which is absolutely irresponsible – they have no concept of reality.” Speaking with MSNBC’s Luke Russert on Friday, he added, “I’ve had it with this self-righteous, delusional wing of the party.”
The GOP has become more and more extreme, to a point where it is barely recognizable from what it was in the 20th century. Even Ronald Reagan, and certainly Barry Goldwater, would not understand their party today.
I remember producing a pamphlet on the rise of the “New Right” in the early 1980s with an analysis of groups like the National Conservative Political Action Committee, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority, the Conservative Victory Fund and many others. We argued how destructive the extreme right wing views were at the time but little did we realize how nihilistic they would become.
Here is the history lesson.
A very conservative group formed in 1973 called the Republican Study Committee. They were small, but they were opposed to both Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford as too liberal and decided to organize against their policies. Then-Rep. Phil Crane of Illinois and congressional staffers Paul Weyrich, who went on to found the Heritage Foundation, and Ed Feulner, who later headed Heritage, were driving forces, along with several other members of Congress. When Newt Gingrich became House speaker in 1995, he didn’t want a separate group on his flank causing trouble, despite the fact that his conservative views were not too far from theirs. So he abolished it; but it came back.
A National Journal article last year discussed in detail the evolution and rapid growth of this far right caucus.The growth of the Republican Study Committee since 1995 has been truly dramatic – 15 members out of 218 in 1995, up to 72 members out of 220 in 2001 and skyrocketing to 171 members in 2013. The percentage of Republicans who joined this very conservative group went from 7 percent in 1995 to over 70 percent last year.
It is not too difficult to understand why House Speaker John Boehner, or any speaker, might have trouble with his or her Republican caucus.
Of course, there are other groups. Michele Bachmann helped organize the Tea Party Caucus several years ago, a group more extreme than the Study Committee. And, now, an initial nine members of the Study Committee, led by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, have begun to assemble the House Freedom Caucus. More trouble is afoot than Republicans may realize.
The vote last Friday where 52 Republicans bucked the speaker on his effort to move forward on funding for DHS says a lot about the GOP’s direction. The numbers don’t add up for Boehner to move much of anything forward, and the Senate won’t buy what the Study Committee or the Freedom Caucus are selling.
The rapid radicalization of the Republican Party is playing out in the presidential sweepstakes as well. The Conservative Political Action Conference has gone from a fringe gathering to a primary litmus test for most candidates.
There is no such thing as a moderate voice in the leadership of the Republican Party any longer; there is barely a Main Street conservative voice that will get traction within the party that now finds itself in control of the House and Senate. Even the John Boehners and the Mitch McConnells live in fear of the new suicide caucus.
The problem, as many Republicans know, is that this crowd is ungovernable and ultimately, nationally, unelectable.