I wrote earlier today that I was going to pull up the floorboards trying to disprove my own perception that the rebellious factions within the GOP aren’t all that ideologically distinctive. The past couple of hours I’ve been pouring over census data, political reports, and even looking into the rough outlines of every current House members’ history in office. To spoil the findings, if there’s any ideological splint happening here between Republicans, it is deeply hidden.
To give an indication of how a markedly more conservative slice of the contemporary GOP (the “suicide caucus”) has evolved into a less ideologically remarkable portion of the broader Republican Party, I looked at who within that group has stayed a member of these agitating groups within the GOP. Here’s a look at the original set of districts whose representative signed on to that original letter asking the Republican leadership to threaten a shutdown:
As you can maybe work out, the horizontal axis is the score given those districts in the 2014 Cook’s Political Report. Built off of a variety of political factors, including election results from several years, it roughly predicts the ease of a Republican or Democratic win in a district (with Republican leaning values here treated as positive, Democratic leaning ones as negative). The vertical axis is the margin by which Romney won (or if negative – lost) that given district. Unsurprisingly, the two have a rough correspondence. Within that splash, however, the seventeen steadfast representatives who are members of the Freedom Caucus and signatories in both 2013 and 2015 letters urging a Republican shutdown are marked with a C above their district’s dot. The newcomer representatives who signed the most recent letter and are members of the Freedom Caucus but couldn’t have signed the earlier letter since they are freshmen representatives have an F above their district’s dot. Representatives that may be unannounced members of the secretive caucus but have signed both letters are marked with a D.
If there are ideological forces at work, they appear to be complex, with both more centrist and more extreme districts appearing to have less proportionate weight in the smaller, more persistent faction. With many saying that the districts that produce Freedom Caucus Republicans aren’t significantly different from other Republican-electing districts, it seems that this says more about all Republican districts and their divergent demographics and ideas from the electoral majority in the US. This doesn’t exactly lend credence to interpreting this new faction as uniquely un-ideological in its contentious fight with the Republican Party leadership, but it certainly fails to suggest an ideological component to the division.
What appears to be a vastly better indicator for who’s in which camp among the House Republicans is what year they were elected in. Below is a set of charts that advance from the core seventeen representatives, to that group plus their newly arrived freshmen caucus members as well as signatories who haven’t been announced (yet?) as Freedom Caucus members, to any House Republican who participated in any of these campaigns, to the broader House Republican Party Caucus.
As you can see, the cohort of Republicans elected in either the 2012 election or a special election held after that one but before the 2014 midterms balloon from a middling fourteen percent of Republicans into an undoubted majority of the representatives upending the legislative process from within the Republican Party. Pre-Obama era Republicans shrink into nonexistence the further you reach into those types of Republican congressional circles. What’s interesting is that this is not only observable as the group that has largely created these rebellions within their party, but it’s almost every single Republican elected during that time frame who has rejected the leadership’s standard process and standard bearers.
If these really were functionally three separate parties vying within the House for a parliamentary-style majority, you would think there would be some Republicans supportive of their own party elected within that time period. Instead, it looks like there really is a seniority-motivated revolt happening. The Republicans involved in these almost splintering factions have become increasingly vocal that they hope to change procedures in the House in order not necessarily to advance substantively different policies but to more easily advance their projects and personal takes on those shared ideas. This is a group of Republicans looking to advance out of legislative childhood (unlike the less rebellious freshmen elected in the 2014 midterms or later, maybe they are still too young). As a country, our financial status and political process have been caught up in a collective tantrum, born out of a professional adolescence.