I’ve previously noted that the Republicans have so far seemed able to pull together their coalition in the House between (known) Freedom Caucus members and other Republicans. Yesterday’s successful election of Paul Ryan purely from within the Party underscores that. No one should be shocked by that, as the most recent hints at a possible split between the Republicans differed from earlier factional breaks in that there was basically no observable difference between the two groups’ congressional 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 dissenting Republicans, Ryan as well) wasn’t conservative enough, someone almost indistinguishable on policy somehow fell in the same camp as them. In the end, this seems to have more to do with where different Republicans come down on the issue of how the caucus should run, and less about their ideological niche within the Party.
All that said, I don’t want to have overlooked anything. Since the ballots in the election of Ryan are secret, there’s no way of knowing which forty-three Republicans defected to Daniel Webster (FL-10). That said, the murmurs that helped derail Kevin McCarthy’s original candidacy for Speaker have continually come from a somewhat recognizable faction – the Freedom Caucus. While a large majority of that group’s members expressed support for Ryan holding the Speakership, they quite vocally avoided giving an official endorsement of him. Throughout this process, that caucus seems tied up within talk of splintering the Republican Party, at least within the House.
Earlier this week, I poured over the list of known Freedom Caucus members and compared it to two different letter-writing contingents within the Republican Party which challenged their leadership in the House. One was the “Suicide Caucus” who petitioned for the Republican leadership to demand the repeal of Obamacare or else let a debt-ceiling-induced default destroy the US credit rating in 2013. The other is a group very, very loosely affiliated with the Freedom Caucus that similarly petitioned for the Republican leadership to threaten to let us default on our debt by means of the debt ceiling if Planned Parenthood wasn’t stripped of federal funding.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a notable amount of overlap between the members of congress using what amounts to more or less the same tactic, and the Freedom Caucus itself. In the overlap of all these groups, there is a small cadre of seventeen Republicans who signed both of those public letters and are on the known member list for the Freedom Caucus.
The districts in red are held by the seventeen congressional members at the heart of these overlapping factions. They are alphabetically by last name Justin Amash (MI-03), Jim Bridenstine (OK-01), Jeff Duncan (SC-03), John Fleming (LA-04), Trent Franks (AZ-08), Tim Huelskamp (KS-01), Jim Jordan (OH-04), Raúl Labrador (ID-01), Mark Meadows (NC-11), Mick Mulvaney (SC-05), Steve Pearce (NM-02), Scott Perry (PA-04), Keith Rothfus (PA-12), Matt Salmon (AZ-05), David Schweikert (AZ-06), Randy Weber (TX-14), and Ted Yoho (FL-03).
Because of the secretive nature of the Freedom Caucus, those are only the confirmed set of congressional representatives who fall into all three of those groups. Another seven House members publicly have signed on to those two letters but have so far not been announced to be Freedom Caucus members themselves. For anyone attempting to uncover the presumably broader membership of that Caucus, those seven are more or less a researching ground zero.
The seven non-members of the Freedom Caucus but fellow signatories on the two letters have their districts in orange. They are John Duncan (TN-02), Blake Farenthold (TX-27), Louie Gohmert (TX-01), Richard Hudson (NC-08), Walter Jones (NC-03), Kenny Marchant (TX-24), and Thomas Massie (KY-04).
Similarly, there are another seven representatives who are confirmed members of the Freedom Caucus and publicly signed on to the most recent letter, but who couldn’t voice their support or criticism of the original “suicide caucus” because they were not elected until the 2014 midterm election, after that crisis had passed. The large number of freshman representatives is definitely a distinctive characteristic of this newest agitating group within the Republican House.
As Pew Research pointed out, that was arguably the motivating characteristic that prompted them to support Speaker candidates other than McCarthy and more generally have a combative relationship with Republican leadership. Their grievances were arguably less about getting a particular set of policies passed, and more about their perspectives being taken seriously by the Republican leadership in the House in spite of them lacking seniority.
The relevant freshmen representatives’ districts are in yellow. They are Brian Babin (TX-36), Dave Brat (VA-07), Ken Buck (CO-04), Curt Clawson (FL-19), Jody Hice (GA-10), Barry Loudermilk (GA-11), and Gary Palmer (AL-06).
With the differences dividing Republicans in the House increasingly being about dynamics between legislators and less about policy, the resulting boundary between Republican groups has been fuzzy and more difficult to characterize. The era in which the Far Right quasi-splintering bloc came from an especially distinctive part of the country is largely gone, and with it that these different groups will consistently represent the same faction. They have coalesced around the particular circumstance, usually with a changeable policy cause and fueled by a contest for seniority in the House and visibility in the Party. There’s nothing like a party platform which more or less unifies them. They’re just periodically emergent groups with a constantly shifting boundary with the broader Republican Party.
Out of the broader House, fifty Republicans joined the “suicide caucus” but appear to have eschewed the more recent letter and any overt affiliation with the Freedom Caucus (although admittedly twelve of them left the house before the formation of the Freedom Caucus or the recent letter campaign). Six Republicans have unambiguous membership in the Freedom Caucus but haven’t made public their support for either of the debt ceiling letter-writing campaigns. Another five have only joined the most recent abortion-focused letter. Together that makes up the majority of representatives with any involvement with these groups – people who were briefly, conditionally, or tangentially active.
Later today, I will have a post up exploring the ways in which these murkily distinctive groups of Republicans do and don’t differ from the broader Republican House and general congressional delegation. By and large, however, it seems that ideological disagreement has taken a backseat to (at times very contentious) disagreements how to go about legislating those shared ideas.