Do They Really Talk Like That?

Yesterday in Quick Takes I linked to an article from Matt Fuller about how members of the Freedom Caucus are plotting to use a challenge to Rep. Paul Ryan’s speakership to pressure him into giving them what they want. But beyond the facts of this ongoing battle in the Republican  ranks, what struck me was that at the end of the article, Fuller wrote about how these folks are seeing this as a way to pay back Ryan because one of their leaders, Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas), recently lost his primary to a more “moderate” Republican. Take a look at how one member described their approach.

“How can you have a gang, and have one in your gang get stabbed, and do nothing?” another member asked. “You got to stab somebody, or else what’s the point of having a gang?”

First of all, can you imagine what would happen if a member of the Congressional Black or Hispanic Caucus talked like that – even anonymously? I guess that analogies about being in a gang aren’t problematic if you are a white conservative.

But underneath that, it is interesting that a member of the House Freedom Caucus views their group as a gang. It speaks to a level of immaturity and insecurity that is – frankly – disturbing for a member of Congress. These are probably the same people who rant and rave about that kind of mindset when dog whistling about “law and order.” Of course, in the midst of Donald Trump’s candidacy, it is not a big surprise to hear someone using that kind of violent imagery. But that is how low into the gutter we’ve gone.

I was reminded of some similar language that was used by a writer at Red State when talking about whether members of the Freedom Caucus should support Paul Ryan as House Speaker.

Others who are more in line with Ryan’s principles and goals have the same questions about him that linger over Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and, in a different context, over Chief Justice Roberts – whether this polite, intelligent, reasonable and eloquent spokesman for our ideas really has the spine to play the stubborn bad cop and sacrifice some of his own reputation for reasonableness when it’s necessary to get to the dirty, knife-fighting business of brinksmanship with ruthless progressives of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid variety…The fact that Ryan has never been willing to do the dirty work to seek out either the Speakership or the Presidency suggests a virtue of character but a deficit of political ruthlessness of this sort. Ryan is likely to seek much-needed common ground between House moderates, the Freedom Caucus, the Senate leadership of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and Senate hardliners of the Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) variety; whether that exists, and whether he has the necessary bloody-mindedness to impose it on them, is another story.

What is it with these guys and bloody knife fights? Of course the tell in all of that is when “a virtue of character” is set against “a deficit of political ruthlessness” that imposes your will on others.

But honestly, that is how the game of dominance is played in politics. It’s not all that different from the mindset of a gang. So I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised. The real question becomes whether or not that is what we want from our leaders.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.