Commentary: Reagan Reed
Nuanced opinions are not always the most popular in the age of clickbait and social media outrage. However, balanced and thoughtful takes are why the Texas Citizen Journal exists.
At a recent Texas Liberty Alliance PAC event, Congressman Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) stoked a firestorm on the right with his pointed criticism of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of about 40 of the most right-wing members of Congress. Specifically, Crenshaw alleged two points: (1) The Freedom Caucus voted against former president Donald Trump’s agenda more than other GOP members, and (2) they are “grifters” and “performance artists”.
Are Crenshaw’s accusations against the House Freedom Caucus true? Let’s break it down, first with the allegations of grifting:
“We have grifters in our midst. I mean in the conservative movement,” said Crenshaw. He went on to explain that there were two kinds of people in Congress: “performance artists” and “legislators”.
“The performance artists are the ones that get all the attention,” he said. “They’re the ones you think are more conservative because they know how to say slogans real well. They know how to recite the lines that they know that our voters want to hear.”
At the Texas Citizen Journal, I have been calling out the grifters and ideologically vacuous performers for some time now. Members on the extremes of both parties have figured out a lucrative business model where they say something absolutely insane and idiotic, go viral on social media, get invited to cable news interviews, and cash in on small dollar online donations. It’s an effective way to convert outrage into dollars, however, it does absolutely nothing to advance the conservative cause or implement actual policy.
But while the Freedom Caucus certainly has more than its fair share of grifters, charlatans, and crackpots, it also has some serious conservatives as members. The Freedom Caucus is not a monolithic entity, and I think it is unfair for Crenshaw to paint with such a broad brush. The caucus has some members like Congressman Chip Roy (R-TX), who, while I don’t always agree with him, is nonetheless a serious and intelligent person. However, the Freedom Caucus also has its fair share of idiots like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Matt Gaetz.
The Freedom Caucus has always had a degree of ideological diversity, and its members have included both libertarian types and vulgar populist demagogues. Unfortunately, it seems to now have more of the latter than the former. It was a much better group when guys like Justin Amash, Mark Sanford, Mick Mulvaney, and Dave Brat were around. But the Freedom Caucus of 2021 is not the Freedom Caucus of 2015.
That leads us to Crenshaw’s second claim: That the Freedom Caucus did not vote in line with Trump’s agenda when Republicans controlled the government.
“In the first two years of Trump’s presidency, when Republicans were in control, when every single time we were voting on Donald Trump’s agenda, who do you think was at the top of that list voting with Trump and who do you think was at the bottom?” Crenshaw said. “You know who was at the bottom? Everybody in the Freedom Caucus. All of them.”
On this point he is 100% correct. However, perhaps the fact that the most conservative members of Congress voted with Trump the least says more about Trump’s than the Freedom Caucus.
Voting records are a matter of objective fact. The political analysis website Five Thirty Eight has compiled a helpful chart showing how often each member of Congress voted in line with Trump’s position, which you can view for yourself.
Sure enough, in the 115th Congress, when Trump’s party controlled the trifecta, Congressman Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) voted with the president on 99% of votes in Congress. However, Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH), the Freedom Caucus chairman, only voted with Trump 85% of the time, while the group’s current chairman, Congressman Andy Biggs (R-AZ), only voted with Trump 73%.
People have short memories, but the Freedom Caucus and Trump were initially at odds. The primary reason that the most conservative members of Congress voted with Trump the least is because Trump is not a fiscal conservative. However, just as Trump co-opted Republican Party, he was eventually able to largely co-opt the Freedom Caucus.
Over time, many of the Freedom Caucus members’ Trump scores would rise much higher, as they compromised more and more with the big-spending Trump. Although they started out as deficit hawks, the Freedom Caucus eventually morphed into the much more populist, less ideological group that it is today.
In summary, while there is a lot of truth in what Crenshaw said, the reality is a bit more complicated. The Freedom Caucus certainly has grifters and performance artists, however, it’s unfair to describe all of its members in those terms. Crenshaw is correct in pointing out that the Freedom Caucus often voted against Trump, however, that is because Trump was a big spender, while the Freedom Caucus, at least at the time, were budget hawks.
Trump is not the standard for conservative orthodoxy, and neither is the Freedom Caucus. Voters need to be informed and judge each candidate, politician, and policy on its own merit.
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