The Corner

‘Conservatives’: A Note on Usage

A few House Republicans lost plum committee assignments, allegedly because they voted against Speaker John Boehner and company too often. Justin Amash (Mich.) and Tim Huelskamp (Kan.), for example, voted against the Ryan budget plan because they felt it did too little to cut spending. There appear, however, to have been other reasons for some of these moves. Some congressmen blame Representative David Schweikert (Ariz.), apparently wrongly, for leaking a Politico story that embarrassed them, and their complaints are said to have influenced leadership in booting him from the financial-services committee. Other congressmen are said to have grown tired of being slammed for not being “true conservatives” by the removed members.

Some conservatives are up in arms about what they’re calling a “conservative purge” and even demanding an end to Boehner’s speakership over it. I have no strong views myself on whether the leadership was right to remove these congressmen from the committees, and am certainly open to the argument that it’s a heavy-handed reaction to healthy disagreement among Republicans. It will be interesting to see how many Republican congressmen, as opposed to bloggers and activists, feel that way. So far, it does not appear that the leadership is out of touch with its troops.

However that turns out, it strikes me as wrong to claim that these moves “clearly” amount to “a purge of conservatives” and will alienate “the base” (I’m quoting a John Fund article on NRO, although the phrasing is pretty common in discussions of the topic). Schweikert was replaced by Mick Mulvaney (S.C.), who is if anything slightly more conservative than he is. The vast majority of conservatives — the “base” by any meaningful definition of that term — stood with Ryan, not Amash and Huelskamp, on the budget.

Boehner and Ryan have purged one type of conservative — a type that seems inclined to try to purge them in return — and perhaps, again, they were wrong to do that. But I really doubt that the vast majority of conservatives see our cause as standing or falling with these four congressmen’s committee assignments, and language that implies otherwise is misleading.

Ramesh Ponnuru — Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg View, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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