When the Republican Freedom Caucus members stood against the American Health Care Act (AHCA), did they triumph or simply snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? The soul of the Republican Party does not belong to conservatives, and that will never change until the Freedom Caucus, and its supporters learn a valuable lesson from the progressive movement.
Conservatives stand on principle, trying to win the battle whilst positioning themselves to lose the war. They occupy the fringe of the Washington, D.C. establishment – and wear that as a badge of honor – when they should be inside the establishment, from where they would be able to affect real change. This strategic failure is something that progressives knew how to avoid and has, after many years, put them in control of the Democratic Party.
Progressives agitate, protest and demonstrate in support of their agenda but – in reality – are content to play the long-game. Using the media, the schools and colleges and community activism, they seek to reposition the nation in their direction gradually. In the short term, they will lie, slander and cheat their way to small victories which are mere increments in the journey towards their socialist utopia. They are never above completely contradicting their own stated principles to score, from their point of view, another small ideological victory and inch their agenda forward.
The political landscape today offers the conservative movement – such as it is – the greatest opportunity to bend the federal government in their direction; the Democratic Party is in disarray, having suffered a massive defeat that has left it unable to grasp its own failure. Instead, leading Democrats have abandoned any efforts to reshape their message in favor of lashing out at President Trump and his populist movement at every opportunity. The Republican Party is little better off. Trump, intentionally or not, has cracked the party open with his unrepentant assault upon the ‘this is how we do things’ mentality. Trump is neither conservative nor establishment Republican — he is no ideologue at all — and that makes his presidency malleable. He does, however, have pledges to fulfill and the AHCA, with all its faults, gave him the opportunity to address one of his signature promises; the repeal and replace of Obamacare.
Certainly, conservatives wanted repeal, and their ideal replacement was something almost exclusively left to the private sector. Establishment Republicans were behind repeal when Obama was in the White House, but now – faced with the reality of taking ownership for that repeal – they have chosen the politically expedient path of tweaking and patching up the existing healthcare system. Although Trump went along with that, he was always open to modifying a bad bill – as was House Speaker Paul Ryan, according to Texas Congressman Ted Poe, who resigned from the Freedom Caucus over its opposition to AHCA.
During appearances on Fox News, Poe states that both Ryan and President Trump were open to modifying the bill according to Freedom Caucus requests – and did make some suggested changes – but the group was still not satisfied and remained determined to oppose the legislation. “No matter what changes were made,” Poe says, “the goal posts kept getting moved and then at the end of the day…no was the answer.”
The Freedom Caucus may believe that it took a principled stand and scored a small victory for conservatism, but the strategic benefits of supporting the bill outweighed this merely symbolic victory. The American people want Congress to get things done. There is an argument that no bill would be better than a bad bill, but a bad bill can be amended, and the successful passing of it would have shown that the Republican Congress is moving forward. At present, Congress seems paralyzed, and everyone knows it, which is why Trump and Ryan are already signaling their readiness to take another crack at healthcare legislation. Inactivity will bring an end to Republican control of Congress.
Additionally, the Freedom Caucus would have attained for itself a huge amount of political capital, had it made clear its objections to parts of AHCA but indicated a willingness to support its passage. As Poe said in a statement, “To deliver on the conservative agenda…we must come together to find solutions to move this country forward. Saying no is easy, leading is hard…”
The members of the Freedom Caucus, and conservatives in general need to learn that there is a difference between selling out and compromising in order to achieve the longer-term goal. Their stand against AHCA was a pyrrhic victory – if it was a victory at all – and it may cost them at a time when there is practically a power-vacuum in the federal government of which they could take advantage.