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On shaky ground with conservatives, House Speaker John Boehner decided last month to leave Congress rather than have his support tested in a battle for the chamber’s gavel. Boehner’s Number 2, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, failed to secure enough votes from the House Republican Conference to succeed him as planned..
What Washington saw in the past month — the toppling of a speaker of the House and the rejection of the “next-in-line” — was unprecedented, and the disruptive efforts of the House Freedom Caucus made it happen. But these were not the first shots in the fight to hold Republican leaders accountable after they lost their way.
In June 2014, then-House Majority Leader Eric Cantor lost the Republican primary to a little-known economics professor by the name of Dave Brat. Cantor outspent Brat $5.5 million to $200,000, and the Washington political establishment thought that he was well on his way to an easy primary win. But Cantor had become arrogant and disconnected from his constituents. Ultimately, that proved to be his fatal flaw.
Brat is now a member of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of about 40 members who are dedicated to limited government, fiscal restraint and personal freedom. A decade ago, a pro-freedom conservative would have been lucky to find a handful of likeminded members on the Hill, which, at the time, included Ron Paul, John Shadegg and Jeb Hensarling.
Although the ranks of the principled conservatives have grown, the ascent of House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to speaker shows that more conservative reinforcements are needed in Washington.