Politics & Policy

Status Quo Anti-

The race for chairman of the House Republican conference between Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Jeb Hensarling (Texas) has become, according to much of the media, a battle between the Tea Party and “The Establishment.” On Fox News Sunday last weekend, Chris Wallace questioned Eric Cantor over his support for Hensarling. Wallace called the Texan “a member of the Republican establishment,” and asked, “Doesn’t the Tea Party deserve something for the role they played in this election?”

This is otherworldly: If Hensarling has become the establishment, then the Tea Partiers should pack their bags and go home — they have already won. 

Hensarling has been with the angels on the issues Tea Partiers care most about — spending restraint, ending the culture of bailouts, government transparency — since long before Rick Santelli’s call to arms.

He was instrumental in passing earmark reforms over opposition from top appropriators in his own party during the waning days of the last Republican majority in 2006. He headed the Republican Study Committee — the conservative conscience of the GOP caucus — during the wilderness years of 2007–09, persistently turning in alternative (that is, balanced) budgets that cut spending and held the line on taxes.

During the battle over financial reform, he introduced legislation that would have removed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac from government conservatorship and revoked their public charters, ending the open-ended line of credit extended to them by the government on behalf of generations of taxpayers.

As Hensarling himself recently put it, “I guess I would say I was into Tea Party before there was a Tea Party.” And as chair of the House Republican Conference, there is no reason at all to think Hensarling would kowtow to the pork caucus or become a tool of the status quo. If anything, the Tea Party–infused freshman class would strengthen his hand.

Hensarling enjoys the endorsement of the man he’d be succeeding, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, another “establishment” Republican with impeccable fiscal-conservative credentials, as well as that of budgetary superstar Paul Ryan (Wis.). And Ron Paul (Texas), not exactly a yes-man for the GOP elite, has backed Hensarling, saying the fellow Texan has a unique opportunity to “guide the conference to support concrete legislation that reduces the size and scope of the federal government.”

Of course, Bachmann has been a dogged campaigner for conservative candidates around the country and a fearless voice for the Tea Partiers. But in her race against Hensarling, she’s not taking on a feckless establishmentarian but a fellow conservative insurgent every bit as devoted to our principles as she is.

If these are the kind of choices we’ll have in future intra-Republican battles, we can only be very pleased.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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