The GOP House Rebels Are Tea Partiers, Not Populists

The rhetoric of the “New Right” isn’t shared by Republican lawmakers

The battle over the House Speakership exposed the current divides in the Republican Party. But, in contrast to what some observers believe, they’re mostly the same fault lines that existed in the pre-Trump GOP.

Many commented on Donald Trump’s lack of influence in this fight. Fewer commented on what the House rebels actually believe. Liberals still called them MAGA Republicans, even though their ideology isn’t exactly Trumpism. Many of them share Trump’s bluster and they do care about immigration and other Trumpian issues. But their primary concerns aren’t populist–they’re Tea Party.

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Prognosticators of the GOP’s future should bear this in mind. While the conservative commentariat expresses different ideas from that of the pre-Trump conservative movement, this change isn’t reflected among Republican lawmakers or their institutions. Some things have changed rhetorically for the GOP. Few Republicans openly endorse mass amnesty and more Republicans support restricting legal immigration than ever before. But populist views on economics and government spending have found no toehold in the party.

The demands made by the Republicans opposed to Kevin McCarthy were textbook Tea Party. A lot of it was insider baseball concerning House rules and committee assignments. The concrete political issues were throwbacks to the Obama era. McCarthy agreed to have votes on blocking debt ceiling raises, securing the border, cutting entitlements, term limits, and defunding the IRS. The only addition to core Tea Party concerns was the demand for a Church-style committee on the intelligence community’s misdeeds. Though that demand is driven by the persecution of Trump and his supporters, the idea would’ve resonated with the more libertarian members of the Tea Party.


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