by DAVID WEIGEL [Slate] – If losing the 2012 election was tough for movement conservatives, the month since the loss has been even tougher. They’re losing every internal power struggle that matters. On Nov. 14, conservative Rep. Tom Price lost a secret ballot election for a leadership post. The next day, the conservative Republican Study Committee gave its chairmanship to Rep. Steve Scalise, who’d been opposed by the group’s former leaders—like Tom Price.
Over the next two weeks, Washington bubbled with rumors of Republicans agreeing to raise taxes, and violate the pledge they’d made to Grover Norquist, if it got them a “grand bargain” that cut spending on entitlements. Huelskamp responded with a YouTube video in which he warned that “a lot of my colleagues appear ready to break their word,” but when he signed that pledge, he “meant it.” On Dec. 3, Republican leaders sent an open letter to President Obama admitting that their ideal plan couldn’t pass, but some combination of entitlement cuts and “revenue” enhancement could. Conservatives like Huelskamp attacked, joined by David Koch’s Tea Party group Americans for Prosperity and the Heritage Foundation.
This was when Huelskamp learned he’d lost the plum committee assignment. Joining him in exile were Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, who’d also been bounced from Budget, and Arizona Rep. David Schweikert, who’d lost a place on Financial Services. Huelskamp and Amash had both voted against Paul Ryan’s 2013 budget when it got into the committee, on the grounds that it didn’t balance fast enough.
Amash arrived at Tuesday’s Heritage luncheon a little after Huelskamp. He called the leadership’s move an outright “purge,” and a disrespectful one. “I’ve not a single call from anyone in leadership, not a single email,” he said. “I’ve read about this in the media.”
Huelskamp placed his hand on Amash’s shoulder. “The call is coming,” he said.
Conservative activists interpret the Amash/Huelskamp/Schweikert purge as a rearguard action against the party base. There’s reason to believe them. The 2011 debt limit standoff cratered public opinion of the GOP, and when it didn’t recover, leaders started to criticize the new outside groups that had subjected Republicans to litmus tests, threatening them if they cast wayward votes. On Tuesday, Amash said he voted against the 2013 Ryan budget—after “voting with our team 95 percent of the time”—because “we did not take a strong enough stance in dealing with our debt.” That was exactly the argument made by Heritage Action, the campaign branch of the conservative think tank, which had launched in the Tea Party year of 2010. Republican leaders can’t punish Heritage, but it can punish back-benchers.
“The last 24 hours are very concerning to those of us in the conservative movement who are hoping to see Republicans stand for conservative principles,” said Tim Chapman, CEO of Heritage Action. “We still believe principled policy is good politics. The American people are looking for leadership.”
According to Chapman, and to House conservatives, the election bolstered their argument.