Freedom Caucus functions as a Tea Party firewall

Tea Party-beneficiaries worked to stay true to their pledges. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

By now it is well-established that advocates of the American Health Care Act failed to secure sufficient support from conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus last Friday to pass the bill. Both Paul Ryan and Donald Trump made that clear.

Of course, the debate will continue to rage over who ultimately deserves the blame (or credit), but in an immediate, practical sense, insufficient support from the Freedom Caucus prompted proponents to pull the vote Friday afternoon.

Earlier this month, I identified the mounting friction between AHCA supporters and skeptics as a sign that the Tea Party infrastructure was working. From March 10:

After the House released its repeal and replace plan earlier this week, conservative movement groups and elected officials such as the Tea Party Patriots and Rand Paul voiced vehement opposition to the legislation. The threat of heightened backlash from Tea Party players triggered the administration to respond by inviting them to share that opposition with the president and the vice president at the White House.

Whether these Tea Party-backed Republicans will be able to lobby successfully for healthcare legislation that meets their standards is yet to be determined. But those people the movement imported to Washington during the long winter of Obama’s presidency have not forgotten what brought them there.

On Friday, the Freedom Caucus successfully leveraged their clout to uphold, from members’ perspectives, what constitutes a key campaign promise. The group does not disclose its membership, but a very significant chunk of its publicly-confirmed members were swept into Congress by the Tea Party wave. Veterans, such as founding Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, eagerly aligned with the movement as well.

Some of the bill’s most visible opponents outside the House, from Rand Paul to Ted Cruz to Sean Hannity, were vocal Tea Party supporters.

In fact, in an op-ed urging the GOP to fix the AHCA, Hannity himself wrote, “It’s very important the House Freedom Caucus and senators such as Rand Paul, Ted Cruz Marco Rubio and Lee have input into this bill.”

Still, a full two-thirds of the entire Republican House Majority was elected in 2010 or later, and it’s likely every single one of these (and many of those first elected before that) campaigned against Obamacare. Freedom Caucus members, for their part, just disagreed that the bill achieved what constituents sent them to Washington to do.

The cry at Tea Party rallies years ago was for a “full-scale” repeal of the Affordable Care Act. That is not what the House bill offered. Thus, Tea Party-beneficiaries worked to stay true to their pledges.

Given the way the party is operating now, come 2020, it may turn out the only effective wall Republicans were able to build this decade was the Tea Party firewall.