Freedomworks 9/12 Summit Spotlights Freedom Caucus
Glenn Beck, who ended the 9/12 Freedomworks event in Orlando by announcing that Ted Cruz had won 41% in a straw poll of the thousands of attendees, at first joked that Donald Trump had won. (Trump actually came in third with 8%, and Ben Carson was second with 12%). The groans in the audience indicated that many prefer the steadfast conservatism of Cruz over the Trump phenomenon.
I mention this first, as it is indicative of the difficult year that is to come.
Glenn Beck also believes it will be a difficult year, even comparing it to 1968. In a reference to the Chicago riots of that year surrounding the Democratic convention, where the forces of Gene McCarthy battled it out with the Humphrey “establishment”, Beck suggested that the circus to surround the 2016 Philadelphia convention may “burn that city to the ground”.
Freedomworks was the key organizer of the 2009 “March on Washington”, in which many of us participated. With 1-2 million people in front of the Capitol (estimates vary), those were heady times filled with a combination of outrage over Obama’s actions and optimism that with enough of us working together, we could take our country back.
Today’s reality is different from what was imagined six years ago. A conservative uprising took back the House in 2010, along with many state legislatures and governors mansions, and then the Senate in 2014. But our presidential standard bearer Mitt Romney failed to take the fight to Obama in 2012 and little has actually changed. The Obama agenda marches on, with many victories and few defeats. There is a general feeling that the Republican leadership in both houses are either not up to the task of effective resistance, or worse, in thrall to the special interests that like the status quo just fine.
The conference highlighted members of the “Freedom Caucus” – a group of legislators who seek a change to the status quo. One of their members, Mark Meadows, is leading the fight to replace Speaker John Boehner. A number of other members spoke of the difficulty of the fight, of how they were ostracized by the insiders, losing key committee assignments and worse, as the Republican elites circled the wagon to protect their interests.
Currently, the Freedom Caucus consists of about 42 members – less than 10% of the 425 seats in the House of Representatives. Their mission is to give a voice to the countless Americans who feel that Washington does not represent them. Given recent polls, that group would be a large majority of the country. At the conference we heard from Caucus members Ted Yoho (FL3), Mark Meadows (NC11), Ron DeSantis (FL6), John Fleming (LA4), Tom Massey (KY4) and Tim Huelskamp (KS1). All are committed to finding a way to resist the Obama juggernaut, and the current focus of the fight is to replace John Boehner. Freedomworks CEO Adam Brandon thinks they may succeed and Boehner may not last out the year.
Currently there is no Freedom Caucus in the Senate, unless you count Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. Most will say that although Mitch McConnell has to go, there is no clear path to make that happen.
If there was a theme to this conference, it was that we should not lose hope, that there are legislators in Washington ready to fight the good fight on our behalf, and they deserve our support and protection. That support is the number one priority of Freedomworks, followed by fighting the regulatory state and promoting pro-growth economics.
The conference though, was originally promoted as a venue for the Presidential candidates. I suspect many signed up originally for this reason (at least I did). Yes, it is important to support the good work of the Freedom Caucus, but given the realities of the Congress and their inability to counter the President, it is the 2016 Presidential campaign that should be the primary focus of every conservative activist everywhere.
Which brings us back to Donald Trump, and why he is leading in the polls. On the one hand, Trump has not presented enough policy detail to determine if he is “conservative enough” to do the right things if he becomes President, and it is difficult to support him until his plan for the country becomes clear. What he does represent though is a “disruptive force” – a rolling cannonball who will go to Washington and roll over the kind of obstacles that tie the hands of even reform-minded leaders. Many pundits have concluded that Trump is leading in the polls because voters are rejecting “insiders”. Another explanation could be that they are rejecting those candidates who “talk the talk” but like so many who were sent to Congress in 2010 and 2012, do not have the courage or the ability to create the change that is needed.
To right the ship of state will take some well-placed disruptions that re-order the status quo. Trump seems like a candidate who could do that, being at the same time self-funded and untethered by conventional wisdom. If the other candidates, who we know to be true conservatives, would adopt the Trump world view that “creative destruction” can be applied to government as well as business, they would make themselves into much more electable candidates in the current political climate of anger and desperation.
Next weekend, Heritage Action will be hosting 12 of the presidential candidates at their grassroots event in Greenville, SC. I look forward to that meeting to see if there is a different message than Freedomworks presented, and will report on it next week.
Palm Beach County Tea Party leaders were volunteers at the Freedomworks event, including Mel and Barbara Grossman, Terry Gallagher and Marion Frank.
For Marion’s take on the event see: Freedomworks Event