The House Freedom Caucus Is a Cancer On The Republican Party

Bill Scher

The House Republicans have a problem. The approximately 50-member strong Freedom Caucus won’t let them govern. Speaker John Boehner decided it was preferable to abandon his post instead of standing up to them. Rep. Kevin McCarthy chose to run away from the Speaker’s race instead of trying to beat them.

Both cited party unity for their excuse. But their decisions avoid the underlying problem: the House Freedom Caucus is a cancer that needs to excised if the party is ever going to be able to function.

Consider that as soon as eyes turned to Rep. Paul Ryan came the calls that the Ayn Rand disciple is not conservative enough.

At Real Clear Politics, I elaborated on the need to stand up to the right-wing bullies instead of bowing to party unity at all costs:

This is like refusing to get chemotherapy because you want your body to be united with your cancerous tumor…

…It’s not as if Boehner doesn’t agree that his right flank has become detrimental to the party. “We have,” he said in that CBS exit interview, “members of the House and Senate here in town who whip people into a frenzy believing they can accomplish things that they know, they know, are never going to happen.”

And he knows they cannot be allowed to control the House and represent the face of the GOP if the party is to be competitive in presidential election years. Yet he is allowing that to happen. Abdication doesn’t remove the tumor. The cancer attacks whomever comes next.

I have no doubt that a full-blown confrontation would be as brutal as chemotherapy. Boehner was not wrong that his allies would face primary challenges. Several could lose. What would emerge after the civil war is uncertain. But letting the Freedom Caucus cancer metastasize is an untenable prospect for a major political party.

What’s maddening about this Republican rift is how small the ideological gap is between the factions. This is not a Whig Party torn apart over slavery. That schism led to the creation of the Republican Party. One hundred and sixty years later, the Grand Old Party is breaking apart, not over fundamental philosophic disagreement but over tactics.

And not even the tactics of winning, but the tactics of losing – how Republicans should handle proposals that cannot survive a Senate filibuster or presidential veto. By putting party unity above all, nearly everyone in the party lost. John Boehner lost his job. Kevin McCarthy lost his ambitions. The party as a whole lost its chance to prove it can govern competently.

Republicans may try to paper-over the rift yet again, praying that Rep. Paul Ryan has the credibility to keep the Freedom Caucus in line. But you can’t remove a cancer with a faith healer.

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