A tale of two Republicans

Kevin McCarthy, the first among many Republicans to be considered as a replacement Speaker of the House, has seen a new, formidable challenger appear: central Florida congressional representative Daniel Webster. Previously one of the leading contenders to unseat Boehner at the start of the current congressional term, Webster has again captured the attention of many in the most conservative Republicans with calls for less Party oversight in bringing bills forward and other legislative actions. In the wake of that, he has earned the endorsement of the Freedom Caucus – the closest bloc within the House to a third party.

A key thing to note within this process is that this borderline rogue faction within the House is not only approaching this with more preparation than ever before, but also hasn’t selected one of their own. As some have pointed out, Webster is virtually identical to McCarthy on policy, and his main criticism of the Republican Party is about its leadership and structural organization, not policy outcomes. I’ve pulled together a list here of recent and major assessments on a variety of issues to show just how similar their political perspectives are:

Rankings and Assessments

Assessing Organization Kevin McCarthy (GOP CA-23) Daniel Webster (GOP FL-08)
NARAL Pro-Choice America (2014) 0% 0%
National Right to Life Committee (2014) 100% 100%
Planned Parenthood Action Fund (2014) 0% 0%
American Farm Bureau Federation (2014) 50% 50%
Food Policy Action (2014) 17% 11%
American Farm Bureau Federation (2014) 50% 50%
American Library Association (2013) 22% 22%
Gun Owners of America (2014) 80% 80%
Hispanic Federation National Immigration Scorecard (2014) 59% 59%
Human Rights Campaign (2014) 0% 0%
American Family Association (2014) 75% 75%
Christian Coalition of America (2014) 90% 90%
FRC Action (2014) 75% 75%
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (2014) 36% 36%
Federally Employed Women (2014) 30% 30%
Concerned Women for America (2013) 92% 91%
American Civil Liberties Union (2013-2014) 0% 0%
AFL-CIO (2014) 0% 9%
John Birch Society (2014) 50% 60%
Peace Action West (2014) 9% 16%
Center for Security Policy (2013-2014) 9% 16%
Bread for the World (2013) 30% 20%
Drum Major Institute (2012) 7% 14%
Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law (2014) 25% 20%
Competitive Enterprise Institute (2014) 100 100
FreedomWorks (2014) 52% 62%
National Taxpayers Union (2013) 68% 74%
Alliance for Retired Americans (2014) 10% 11%
National Education Association (2013) 0% 0%
NumbersUSA (2013-2015) 50% 93%
NumbersUSA (2011-2012) 57% 57%
American Immigrant Lawyers Association (2014) 33% 33%

(Sources: here and here.)

To a large extent, this makes sense when you think of McCarthy and Webster as products of their districts. Both presided over largely non-Hispanic White and comparatively rural sections of far more racially diverse and urbanized states. The leading industries of agriculture and tourism have become economically and socially invested in the presence of other ethnic and racial communities, particularly non-White Latin@s, for labor. As a result, they fall into a conservative business-minded fold of the Republican Party – in favor of a light approach towards immigration but not necessarily citizenship and amnesty for undocumented people. McCarthy’s district has a deeper structural basis in immigration workers and so he has been less able to tap into increasing anti-immigrant rhetoric the way Webster has in recent years. That shows in their diverging scores from NumbersUSA in recent years. That said, when it comes to organizations that care about the nuts and bolts of immigration policy, they’ve been given largely identical rankings.

What’s more, on virtually every other issue, they fall together – in favor of most military activities, of strict policing, restrictions on abortion, and restrictive definitions of marriage. All of that’s reflective of the largely non-urban, White, and middle class nature of their standard voter. Related to all that, the sizable presence of national industries like agriculture and tourism in their districts encourages them to hold a specific type of economic policy perspective. It’s one about maximizing profits within the existing economy, not radically restructuring the economy into a more ideologically conservative model.

All that said, McCarthy has failed to gain the support of the Freedom Caucus and most likely many unaligned House members who are similarly invested in a hyper-conservative outlook distinct from his and Boehner’s. Webster, equally an outsider to that faction, simultaneously has. He’s one that more conservative parts of the party believe they can effectively advance their policies under, largely because of his ideas on how to differently run the House. More than revealing something about Webster, this suggests something about the Freedom Caucus. For all their policy disagreements and protests, they have cast their lot in with the Republican Party and decided that they are Republicans after all. They will foment a fight within the party to decide how it will be run with clear hopes for how a different structure might allow different ideas to come out on top within the party. That said, they have decided to fight within the party, not against it.

As I’ve written before, the factionalism within the current Republican Party often leads to all of the uncertainties and instabilities of a more-than-two-party system but with all of the policy discussions third parties bring up being directly or discretely discussed. This is exactly that dynamic at work – a few opinion pieces from Freedom Caucus supporters have hinted at what policies exactly they want instead of those personally put forward by Webster, but a broader public analysis of how that group of Republicans differ from other groups hasn’t really happened even within conservative media circles. We have a House of Representatives that’s increasingly divided into factions that the average voter won’t be informed of. That doesn’t inspire confidence in our ability to make a decision about which groups we support and vote for.

The featured image for this article comes from here.

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One thought on “A tale of two Republicans

  1. […] districts. In fact, the “true conservative” rival to Ryan’s Speakership was basically identical to the first establishment contender for the job, Kevin McCarthy. While he (and for several […]

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