This wasn’t the case at one time. Indeed, being a conservative Republican meant being in the minority of the minority party.
Newt Gingrich led the conservative charge during the Clinton Presidency, increasing the number in the House if not the Senate. At the same time, through grassroots efforts such as the Christian Coalition, conservatives began winning at the local level and this success begat conservative success at the federal level.
However, in the early days of the Obama presidency, the explosion of the Tea Party changed the dynamics of the Republican Party as we know it. The anger of the Republican base against the liberal socialist overreach of the Obama White House and Democratic majorities in both the House and Senate, shook the establishment Republican leadership to its very core.
Suddenly, every Republican claimed some affiliation to the Tea Party and were automatically conservative. John McCain, a leader in open borders and amnesty, famously snuggled up to the Tea Party and in one of the most hypocritical TV spots of all time, declared “build the dang wall!”. Mitch McConnell found great affection for Rand Paul and all things Kentucky Tea Party. On and on and on it went.
Until being conservative was synonymous with being Republican. “I am Republican” suddenly meant “I am Conservative”. This misappropriation of the term allowed Republican leadership, and longtime Republican moderates the flexibility of hiding behind the veil of conservatism and Tea Party bone fides.
While only Senators McCain, Collins, and Murkowski voted with the Democrats, rest assured there are more than a handful waiting in the wings ready to side with Chuck Schumer if necessary. Now, eager to move on to their next failure, they risk further unmasking by President Trump’s threat to end federal subsidies to healthcare insurance firms, and to the Congressional healthcare plan as well.
Many congressional Republicans have called for continuing the CSR payments. But he is running into opposition from key Republicans, including Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (Utah) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady(Texas), In a statement Friday, Brady warned that “simply letting Obamacare collapse” would cause “even more pain” for people in his district facing high premiums and fewer choices. Brady has called for legally and temporarily funding the payments.
Republicans in Congress may soon have to appropriate federal funds to insurers they fought to hold off for several years under Obamacare, or otherwise risk being blamed for a chain reaction of insurer exits and premium hikes. “I hope the president will use his authority to extend those payments. He can do that,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the No. 3 Senate Republican. “If he doesn’t then Congress will have to look at what our options are.” Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, told Reuters in an interview Monday, he and other congressional leaders planned to tell Trump they want to end the debate on healthcare for now and turn to tax reform. Hatch said he would prefer Congress not appropriate the subsidies to insurers, but said, “I think we’re going to have to do that.” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said he thought Trump may continue the funding. “It does in fact affect a lot of low-income citizens and my sense is that he will continue those,” he said. “Regardless of what is being said I think he understand that it has an effect on low-income citizens.”
To no one else’s surprise, more senators just can’t wait to hop on the federal gravy train: (The Hill)
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Health Committee, has also called for Congress to act on the payments. His committee will be holding hearings on improving the stability of the Obamacare markets in the near future, which could lead to bipartisan action. “I guess I’m hopeful that the administration, the president will keep making them and if he doesn’t then I guess we’ll have to figure out from a congressional standpoint what we do,” Sen. John Thune (S.D.), the No. 3 Senate Republican, said on Monday. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the No. 2 Republican, noted that Trump would have to sign legislation guaranteeing the payments, making it a “challenge.” He also said that the prospect of action by Congress is a “real live issue.”
These are senior leaders in the Republican Party. While the party might be comprised of many true conservatives outside of DC, inside the swamp, it seems the entire leadership is more moderate Rockefeller republican than Tea Party conservative.
Over the next few months, it will be interesting how many politicians within the Grand Old Party will risk unmasking to enable federal spending and taxation all the while deploring all things Trump. I’m confident most if not all conservatives outside the Beltway swamp prefer tweets over Obamacare, higher taxes, and increased unemployment. Perhaps only an aggressive 2018 primary season will provide the cure to GOP moderate malaise.