The Freedom Caucus is a Minor Third Party and Should Be Treated That Way

At the Washington Post, Jonathan Capehart does an admirable job of explaining why John Boehner failed as Speaker, why Kevin McCarthy would have fared no better, and why Paul Ryan would have to be a full-blown moron to agree to take the job. But he leaves out the most important part.

It’s easy to say that a lot of the Republicans who were elected to Congress since Obama took office are unwilling to be led. Yes, they came in with a mandate to burn-the-mutha-down, not a mandate to work out unsatisfying compromises with the president and his party.

What’s making Congress ungovernable, though, isn’t that there is some innate superiority to being a squishy compromiser over a dedicated reformer. The problem is that these reformers want to use tactics that are so problematic that they can’t find leaders who will continue to employ them after they’ve proven ineffective for the cause and destructive to the country’s credit rating.

Back when our country seriously flirted with defaulting on our debt, Speaker Boehner made it clear to anyone who would listen that it was an insane idea that he would never allow to happen. But he humored his new radicalized majority-making members for too long and the credit downgrade came anyway.

After the last government shutdown caused a huge decline in popularity for the Republican Party, both Boehner and now-U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell pledged that there would be no more government shutdowns. They have repeated that pledge over and over again since that time.

As I’ve explained several times, the Republicans who refuse to stop demanding government shutdowns and debt ceiling brinksmanship are not best understood as wayward lawmakers who won’t accept any leadership. They are best understood in the parliamentary sense as being a party in their own right. In our system, they are still called Republicans, but in any other system they would be a minor party that has allied itself with another larger party to form a majority. They would be given some kind of token power like control over a minor ministry, which in our system of divided government would translate to either low-level congressional leadership positions or the chairmanship of low-priority committees. In a parliamentary system, their power would flow from the fact that they could cause the Prime Minister to fall if they withdrew their support. In our Congress, they can likewise bring a Speaker down provided that the Democrats go along with it.

As long as the so-called Freedom Caucus of Republicans continues to demand a continuance of government shutdowns and debt ceiling brinksmanship, they do not belong in the majority and should not have any say in who the next Speaker will be. To be more precise, their preference for Speaker would not win out, and the result would be that they would have to serve in the minority in the House.

That means that they would not get to chair committees or subcommittees and they would have no representation in the leadership.

The Speaker would be chosen by a coalition of lawmakers who express a willingness to actually vote for the funding of our government and who are willing to make a commitment to pay our bills on time so we don’t default on our debts and cause a global meltdown of the global market that depends on the creditworthiness of U.S. debt instruments.

So, Jonathan Capehart has ultimately missed the solution to this problem by failing to diagnose the nature of the problem. The Freedom Caucus has to be sidelined.

This means a shattering of the modern Republican Party, but it’s no one’s fault but the “reformers” who don’t understand the way power works or that they’re quickly forcing responsible people to call for a coalition government as the only way to avoid a global financial catastrophe.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.