What's the old saw? They told me if I voted for Hillary Clinton, the president would declare war against the House Freedom Caucus. And he did! (Though I didn't vote for Hillary Clinton….) Anyway, here's your moment of Trump:
The Freedom Caucus will hurt the entire Republican agenda if they don't get on the team, & fast. We must fight them, & Dems, in 2018!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 30, 2017
Eagle-eyed observers might note that the president has a problem with math here. Namely, if you subtract the 32 or so members of the House Freedom Caucus, that wipes out nearly all of the Republican Party's current 34-seat majority (which will likely swell back up to 37 once vacated seats are filled) in the House of Representatives. A handful of GOP senators—most notably Rand Paul and Mike Lee, occasionally Ted Cruz and Jeff Flake—could be seen as HFC co-conspirators, and WHOOPS there goes your 52-48 whip-count. A party looking to pass legislation can "fight" against the Freedom Caucus or fight against the Democrats; but until there is any sign of a centrist-Dem flight toward a historically unpopular Republican president, you really do have to pick just one.
Some of Trumpworld's pressure on the group is working; as mentioned here before, Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) resigned from the Freedom Caucus in the wake of the Ryancare debacle, and now his fellow Texan Brian Babin might follow suit. Other members are expressing their anxiety about the conflict, as expressed in this Politico article from today:
"Here will be the test: My hope is the president will be inclined to allow the negotiations to go forward and we will be allowed to get a better bill than we did before," said group member Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) in a brief interview Tuesday. "If we do, the Freedom Caucus will have a great equity in that conclusion. If we don't, if we see the thing fail completely — nothing but shards around us — then we probably saw the Freedom Caucus overplay their hand… and I say that as a grateful member of the Freedom Caucus."
As I noted in a presciently headlined Friday post "Having Co-Opted the Tea Party Nationwide, Trump Tries to Stamp out its Remnants in Congress," there's a tremendous paradox here: "The very establishment he once railed against for being power-hungry sellouts have now sold themselves out to Donald Trump in order to retain power. And now both sides have joined up in trying to stamp out the last remaining principled deviants." On Tuesday, House Freedom Caucus friend (though not quite member) Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) confessed to me his "great fear" about Trump going native in D.C.:
You know, Donald Trump campaigned on draining the swamp. If he gets up here and hops in and thinks it's a hot tub, like the rest of these guys, we're going to be in trouble….I think when people looked at 16 candidates on the [presidential primary] stage, they said "That's the guy that doesn't owe anybody in Washington, D.C., anything, and that's the guy least likely to fall in league with the rest of them when he gets there, and the guy most likely to get us some change." And that's why they voted for him.
The biggest risk of this is going to be if he comes here and he doesn't do what he said, and if he becomes establishment, then the next revolution is not going to be at the ballot box. I mean they are literally going to be here with pitchforks and torches if electing Donald Trump didn't change anything. What the hell is going to change anything? That's what I think may be the next step.
Speaking of Massie:
UPDATE: Now comes key Freedom Caucus figure Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.):
So will Democrats now strategically reach out to the libertarian-leaners across the aisle? Ha ha, fat chance. But we did tell you that they'll eventually come to selectively appreciate their efforts: