Last year the Republican Study Committee in the House of Representatives began a purge of conservative staffers. The organization, which collaborated with outside conservative groups to push the House GOP right and hold the House GOP Leadership accountable, fired several staffers who were doing just that.
Since then, the Republican Study Committee has been less a check on the wayward drift of the House GOP and more a “conservative seal of approval” for decidedly not-conservative measures. In fact, in an organized manner, moderates have slowly, over time, trickled into the RSC and systematically dismantled its core functions. There are now 157 congressmen in the Republican Study Committee, including Renee Ellmers, Martha Roby, Buck McKeon (just retired), Jeff Denham, and many others who hover at or below 50% in the Heritage Action scorecard.
The Republican Study Committee, the one time home of conservatives in the House, is now just another fraternity of the GOP with its members getting labeled “conservative” by virtue of membership instead of votes.
Because the purpose of the Republican Study Committee no longer exists, conservatives in the House need a new group to continue that purpose. We know the purpose because the progenitor of the Republican Study Committee documented its creation. That progenitor is none other than Edwin J. Feulner, Jr., the first president of the Heritage Foundation.
Time and time again over the last forty years, Ed Feulner’s prescience has led conservatives through rough times. His wisdom should be heeded again.
Feulner’s documentation of the rise of the RSC is contained in his book Conservatives Stalk the House. Historically, the RSC existed to push the House GOP to the right with Reagan as President.
Should the Republicans retain control of the White House in the 1984 election, the need for an RSC-type information service bureau will remain, but the need for an ideological cutting edge will be magnified. As we have been reminded throughout Ronald Reagan’s presidency, the conservative position is very comfortable when in opposition and free from having to implement policy, but the temptation to “cut deals” with Democratic adversaries to implement policy can prove overwhelming. . . .
If the Republican Study Committee maints a modicum of independence, it will continue to serve as a beacon for conservative ideas, a reminder to all branches of government of their responsibilities to the nation.
If the RSC shrinks from its duties, if it allows the executive branch to establish the entire legislative agenda, if it refuses to “frame the issues” in a conservative manner by bowing to the ideological deviations in store, the Republican Study Committee will sink to an impotent posture. However, a new group of ideologically committed conservative House members and staff aides willing to establish and implement a conservative legislative agenda will undoubtedly move in to fill the vacuum.
Feulner was right then. His instincts have proven right for 40 years. He not only transformed the Heritage Foundation into the premiere ideas generator for the right over his tenure there, but he saw where the GOP iteself was headed. Instead of trying to hold the line for Reagan and steer the GOP in the House right, he saw the GOP Leadership return to its pre-Reagan milquetoast days. The consultants and politicians who sat on the sidelines for Reagan’s eight years moved back out of the shadows and back into power.
So he started Heritage Action for America, which could be used as an effective grassroots organizing tool to hold Republicans accountable to their promises. His foresight there too has helped advance conservatism. Then, at retirement, he advocated for Senator Jim DeMint to replace him. DeMint had experience in holding the GOP accountable and challenging the leadership from inside and outside.
Thirty-one years ago, chronicling the rise of the Republican Study Committee he helped build, Ed Feulner documented the conditions on which a new group should rise.
Those conditions are now met. The RSC has filled itself up with moderates who want the imprimatur of being conservative. But while giving them cover and label, these moderates have systematically removed conservative staffers, disrupted relations with outside conservative groups, and sought to give license to leadership instead of hold leadership accountable.
The check on leadership is gone. The generator of ideas from a conservative perspective has been neutered. “[T]he Republican Study Committee [has sunk] to an impotent posture.” The time has come for a new conservative group.
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