House conservatives fed up with conservative caucus, form even more conservative caucus

The Liberty Caucus is a popular new far-right alternative to the far-right Republican Study Committee

Published January 17, 2014 7:36PM (EST)

Justin Amash, Raul Labrador          (AP/Carlos Osorio/Susan Walsh)
Justin Amash, Raul Labrador (AP/Carlos Osorio/Susan Walsh)

The National Journal reports that a few liberty-loving Republican members of Congress, led by Rep. Justin Amash, have started a little caucus to represent the true, "hard-core" alternative to the Republican Study Committee. The idea that anyone needs a more "hardcore" Republican Study Committee seems to require some explaining. The RSC is (and has been for decades) effectively the House of Representatives' "conservative caucus," the group you join to announce that you are officially not a RINO. It is also a sort of miniature right-wing think tank with extensive ties to the business and other interests that fund the right and keep Republicans in line. For years, it has produced alternative budgets and decried compromise and criticized leadership for being insufficiently dedicated to small government.

It has, it turns out, been too successful. The RSC's membership has increased rapidly as it became necessary for most House Republicans to signal their allegiance to ultra-conservatism; it now counts more than 170 members, including the most extreme members in the House, like Louie Gohmert, Michele Bachmann and Paul Broun, but also many more who rarely make headlines. There have been attempts to replace the RSC with something even more conservative in the past, but most of them -- like Michele Bachmann's pathetic "Tea Party Caucus" -- were more about an individual lawmaker's play for press than about creating an alternative organization.

The problem is, the RSC, by any measure, won the battle for the House Republican caucus long ago. More than three-quarters of the GOP conference are now members, including everyone in leadership besides Boehner and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy. Its primary "rival," the "moderate" Republican Main Street Partnership, currently has fewer than 50 members in the House.

This criticism is nothing new. Many RSC members, including some former chairmen, have long expressed concerns about its membership—which now stands at 179 of 233 House Republicans. If three-quarters of the GOP Conference belongs to the RSC, they argue, the group cannot possibly practice the ideological purity on which its reputation was established.

"The RSC today covers a fairly broad philosophical swath of the party. It's no longer just the hard-core right-wingers," [South Carolina Rep.. Mick] Mulvaney said, adding: "If you want to pay dues, you can get in."

What Mulvaney doesn't seem to understand is that the RSC is still "just the hard-core right-wingers," it's just that now the vast majority of the Republican conference is "the hard-core right-wingers." When everyone is a true conservative, then, how do you distinguish yourself as a true conservative? Easy! You just stake out a new position to the right of the right-wing majority. Hence, Amash's "House Liberty Caucus," which has a Rand Paul-ish name and a (somewhat fluid) membership of "core" House conservatives, like Mulvaney, Rep. Raul Labrador and Rep. Jim Jordon.

So, while Amash and others insist that the Liberty Caucus is a complement, not a competitor to the RSC, the National Journal says that "several RSC members are considering leaving the group altogether next year and pouring their energy into growing the Liberty Caucus." In other words, a few years from now, don't be hugely surprised if the far-right RSC is the "mainstream" House Republican caucus to the "conservative" Liberty Caucus, all without any Republican having moved even slightly toward "the center." (Either that or this Liberty Caucus will flame out after failing to repeal Obamacare by 2016 or whatever.)

This is the entire story of the modern Republican Party, writ small: ratcheting ever rightward.

By Alex Pareene

Alex Pareene writes about politics for Salon and is the author of "The Rude Guide to Mitt." Email him at and follow him on Twitter @pareene

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