The vanishing of the Freedom Caucus

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a key member of the group.
Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, a key member of the group. AP

Rep. Justin Amash made his exit on Monday from the conservative House Freedom Caucus, just weeks after breaking rank and calling for Congress to undergo impeachment proceedings against President Trump. The highly influential clique within the House was formed in 2015 to consolidate conservative and libertarian oriented Republicans against GOP leadership under then Speaker John Boehner. Today its founding members are more powerful than ever in Washington, and North Carolina’s own Rep. Mark Meadows has been the chairman since 2017. Amash was right to step away from the Freedom Caucus, which has betrayed its mission of promoting open, accountable and limited government.

It’s no secret that coalitions formed in opposition to a clear enemy makes for a more cohesive politics. The Freedom Caucus’ founding members including Meadows, Mick Mulvaney, Jim Jordan, Ron DeSantis and Amash are an excellent example of how those kinds of alliances can fray when the clear opponent becomes less clear. Their power took shape around government spending fights and leadership challenges to Boehner, ultimately ending in Boehner being ousted. The former speaker called them “idiots” “anarchists” and a handful of expletives, no doubt a badge of honor for a group dedicated to disrupting the niceties of the swamp. Those niceties are often where consensus is formed, and if you’re a committed small government conservative or libertarian, consensus in Washington always means the expansion of government.

With Boehner banished, Obama retiring and Donald Trump headed to the White House you could be forgiven for thinking the Freedom Caucus was about to fulfill its mission. A return to constitutional government and a Congress focused on preserving its own power in competition with the executive seemed imminent. Unfortunately, the timeless truth about power and it’s corrosive effect on those who seek it turned out to be timeless indeed.

Trump turned out to be the catalyst for smashing the longstanding alliance between conservatives and libertarians in opposition to Soviet-era communism. It’s played out from top to bottom in rightward politics and media. Tucker Carlson seizing primetime at Fox News and verbally denouncing libertarianism as a drain on American morality and conservative governance. The Weekly Standard magazine helmed by Bill Kristol going under and sending its renowned conservative columnists into the wind. Former Congressman Mark Sanford of South Carolina drawing the ire of Trump and a primary challenge he couldn’t rebuff. And then there’s Rep. Amash, the leading libertarian of the Freedom Caucus, breaking in favor of impeachment to check presidential power, and resigning from the organization after internal blowback.

North Carolina would be lucky to have a representative in Congress with the courage and clear conviction of Amash. The story of the Freedom Caucus’ positive role in Washington has effectively come to an end under the leadership ofMeadows and presidency of Trump.

It’s much the end of an 80’s teen movie, where the original gang of misfit friends disband at the end to go their separate ways and we read about their lives as the credits roll. This hodgepodge of small government advocates across the country united to knock down a political giant in Boehner and rein in massive government spending and growth. Mulvaney now sits in the White House as Trump’s chief of staff, moving along his big government agenda. Jordan and Meadows do their due diligence performing for cable news in defense of the president amidst mounting evidence of corruption. DeSantis became the governor of Florida, drawing Trump’s support after an ad where he read the Art Of The Deal to his children for a bedtime story.

Justin Amash now goes it alone in Congress. After all, “it’s better to burn out than to fade away.” And that’s just what the Freedom Caucus has done, vanish, leaving the all-encompassing value of “liberty” to wither on the vine.

Stephen Kent of Raleigh, a UNC-Greensboro graduate in political science, is the spokesperson for the libertarian group Young Voices. Twitter: @Stephen_Kent89