Why Breaking Up The Republican Study Committee Is A Good Thing
“If everyone is special, then no one is”.
That line from The Incredibles is a very important one to remember in a world where “participation” and “trying” are prized above winning and results.
In the Republican caucus of the House of Representatives “conservative” is a label almost everyone applies to themselves and in doing so they have devalued the term.
That’s what is leading to the fracturing of the House’s premiere conservative group, “The Republican Study Committee”.
Once a bastion for the conservative movement, the RSC has strayed too far from its original mission and been co-opted by the same party leaders it is meant to exert pressure upon, the members believe.
The new group, which does not yet have a name, is being de-facto led by former RSC Chairman Jim Jordan, although the formal leadership structure could change.
The new group is a direct rebuke of RSC Chairman Bill Flores, who after he won election over Mulvaney told the press that he does not believe the RSC’s core mission should be to put pressure on leadership.
The group was founded in 1973 when liberal Republicans like Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon (yes, Nixon was a liberal Republican) were making deals to expand the reach of government. The few conservative members of the House wanted to create an alternative policy group to push the debate to the right.
An idea was taking shape. These conservative House members decided in the long term to target Minority Leader Gerald Ford, whom they saw as a moderate deal-maker rather than a principled conservative. (Ford, foreshadowing the frustration to be felt by future House leaders, fancied himself a conservative but found it impossible to earn the trust from his right wing.) “We said, ‘If Jerry Ford isn’t getting any pressure from the right, the only way he’s going to go is left,’ ” Feulner recalls.
First, though, the conservatives went hunting for bigger game. President’s Nixon’s welfare plan contained a provision to guarantee Americans a certain annual income—a notion that horrified right-wingers in both chambers of Congress. So Crane had Feulner reach out to conservative aides in the Senate in the hope of joining forces to defeat Nixon’s plan. Soon, Feulner was working with Paul Weyrich, a young staffer for Sen. Gordon Allott of Colorado, and other conservative Hill aides. The group persuaded the governor of California—a popular conservative named Ronald Reagan—to testify against the plan before the Senate Finance Committee. The measure eventually failed, and Reagan rewarded Crane by coming to meet with him in the Capitol. Looking back, Feulner says his work with Weyrich, who later founded the Heritage Foundation, laid the groundwork for what would eventually become the Republican Study Committee.
While the group has had several incarnations over the years, it’s always been a place for the most conservative members to band together to pull the GOP to the right.
As “conservative” became the defacto label for Republicans more and more members joined the group event thought they weren’t really movement conservatives. That’s led to a watering down to the groups positions and its willingness to take on leadership.
Currently there are 170 members (out of 245 Republicans total) of the RSC, that’s almost 70% the entire caucus. This is no longer a select group of members who want to pull the party to conservative policies but a box many moderate members have to check to keep up appearances back home.
Critics of the split, like Noah Rothman of Hot Air, say the move puts purity over effectiveness.
What might be accomplished as part of an organization with a track record of success, one designed to serve as the House Republican leadership’s conservative conscience, will now be far more difficult as these members have intentionally sidelined themselves. By creating a sequestered group that achieves nothing more than self-validation and facilitates only the nursing of grievances, these conservative members have embraced marginalization. As members of a small minority House GOP Conference, these conservative insurrectionists might enjoy more success in this endeavor. As part of a large, diverse majority GOP Conference, the broadest Republican majority the nation has seen since the 1920s, they can be safely ignored.
The threat of House conservatives to walk out of the RSC is not strategy, it’s petulance. And no one will welcome this maneuver more than the Republican leaders they are supposedly protesting.
This critique misses the point of the group. It’s not just a voting bloc trying to win the odd concession from the moderate leadership. It’s supposed to be the engine room of conservative policy creation and messaging.
There’s a time for pragmatism in politics but there’s also a time for firebrand campaigning.
When the insurgents become the establishment it is necessary to shake things up again. To maintain a healthy internal debate and to prevent atrophy, it’s vital that some faction of the ruling group maintain a curiosity and energy for change. It’s easy to rest on your laurels and say, “we’ve won, we can stop fighting now”. Surely no conservative looks at the House GOP and says the fight is done. The right needs an energetic base within the governing wing to push and prod the establishment from getting comfortable. Comfort in politics means a slow and steady drift to the left.
That almost everyone wants to be called a conservative now is a victory for those who started the RSC over 40 years ago. But that doesn’t mean that just because people call themselves conservative they are. There are more policy and political fights for conservatives to win. It’s going to take a new generation of conservatives to redefine the term, to breath life into the timeless ideals and to bring an energy to the fight that will rally others to the cause.
When everyone is a conservative, no one is. Hopefully this new group will shake up the comfortable consensus and continue to force the GOP in more conservative directions