Juan Williams: GOP right wing acts like its own party

Juan Williams: GOP right wing acts like its own party
© Hill File Photo

Is the Freedom Caucus moving the United States toward a European-style coalition government?

At the moment, the 40-plus hard-right conservatives in the Freedom Caucus have all but created their own political party by blocking the majority of Republicans in the House from picking a Speaker.

And, like a third party, the Freedom Caucus has its own legislative agenda — ending ObamaCare, cutting the budget, building a wall on the southern border. The only question is whether its members are willing to make deals that will attract enough Republicans or Democrats to pass legislation.

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That is the operating dynamic of a multiparty, coalition democracy.

The heart of the Freedom Caucus’s discontent with Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerDems charge ahead on immigration Nancy Pelosi had disastrous first 100 days as Speaker of the House Blockchain could spark renaissance economy MORE (R-Ohio) is that, although the Tea Party’s victories in 2010 gave him the House majority, he has refused to follow their lead.

Boehner and the majority of congressional Republicans want to make deals with Democrats that the Tea Party members find unacceptable, even for the sake of keeping the government open. 

And the Freedom Caucus finds party-like unity in rebuffing the Speaker’s efforts to discipline them for committee or floor votes that stray from the mainstream Republican line. They feel Boehner shares neither their agenda nor the passions of the voters who sent them to Congress.

“Remember, for us, much of it has to do with the process and empowering individual members and the constituents that sent us here,” Rep. John FlemingJohn Calvin FlemingThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Dems aim to end anti-Semitism controversy with vote today Former congressmen, RNC members appointed to Trump administration roles Overnight Energy: Watchdog opens investigation into Interior chief | Judge halts Pruitt truck pollution rule decision | Winners, losers in EPA, Interior spending bill amendments MORE (R-La.), a member of the Freedom Caucus, told The New York Times.

“I want there to be more respect for individual members, and I abhor a process where members who are in good faith voting as they believe is necessary and best for our country, are punished by the leadership,” Rep. Mo BrooksMorris (Mo) Jackson BrooksGOP leaders dead set against Roy Moore in Alabama Poll: Roy Moore leading Alabama GOP field Alabama Holocaust Commission condemns GOP lawmaker's use of Hitler phrase 'big lie' MORE (R-Ala.), another Freedom Caucus member, told National Journal.

The Freedom Caucus and the people who sent it to Washington want to sit at the big table and decide on their own deals. All that is required now is that the rebels pick their own leader and begin negotiations with the Republicans and Democrats.

But first they have to officially divorce the GOP and form their own party. 

There are enough hard-right Republican voters who agree with this call for independence from GOP leadership to back a new party under the name of the Freedom Caucus.

That is especially true if you factor in the hard right’s dominance of the messaging coming from hard-right radio talk-show hosts and bloggers. Those calls to political arms are reinforced in constant fundraising appeals from groups such as Heritage Action, FreedomWorks, the Senate Conservatives Fund and Club for Growth.

Historically, third parties have not had much luck in U.S. politics.

For example, Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive Party was swallowed up by the Republicans early in the 20th century. In the 1960s, disaffected Southern Democrats backed segregationist Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s American Independent Party. Many of those Southern Democrats later became Republicans.

But the Freedom Caucus and Tea Party-types show no signs that they are willing to be absorbed by the Republican Party. They want to be autonomous, free to ally with mainstream Republicans only when they feel it suits their ideological agenda.

The passions that could birth a third party are already discernible in the anti-establishment tone dominating the GOP presidential primary race. Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina — two businesspeople and a doctor without any track record of governing — have dominated the primaries so far at the expense of experienced, mainstream Republican politicians.

Last week, a new poll confirmed there is genuine, significant support among GOP voters for the Freedom Caucus’s discontent with establishment Republican leaders.

The Economist/YouGov Poll found 39 percent of all Republicans and 45 percent of self-identified conservative Republicans siding with the Freedom Caucus position that a good Speaker puts unflinching ideological rigidity ahead of accomplishing legislative deals with Democrats to pass laws and budgets.

Similarly, the poll found 58 percent of conservative Republicans saying they want a new Speaker who “sticks to their principles no matter what.” 

That is far different from the poll’s finding that 60 percent of all Americans think the next Speaker should “work with Democrats and the President so that Congress can accomplish more.” Only 18 percent of all Americans and 16 percent of independent voters think the next House Speaker should “oppose Democrats and the President even if that means Congress accomplishes less.”

In fact, 59 percent of conservative Republicans told the pollsters they want the next Speaker to be more conservative than Boehner. Among all Republicans, the percentage holding that opinion drops markedly, to 48 percent.

That people who comprise that 11-percentage-point difference between Republicans and conservative Republicans will provide the grassroots base for the new party.

This is also why any new Speaker, including the popular Rep. Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAppeals court rules House chaplain can reject secular prayers FEC filing: No individuals donated to indicted GOP rep this cycle The Hill's Morning Report - Waiting on Mueller: Answers come on Thursday MORE (R-Wis.), will inherit a fractured, unruly and ungovernable caucus. The solution is for the Tea Party members to go their own way, pick their own leader and work with the Republicans when it fits their agenda. 

The irony here is that the Tea Party, which regularly decries “European socialism” and professes “American exceptionalism,” will put the Congress of the United States in a position where it can only function as a European-type parliamentary democracy such as France, Britain or Germany.

History will record it as a curious legacy for the Tea Party.   

Juan Williams is an author and political analyst for Fox News Channel.