Look out, Republicans up for re-election in 2018. Look out, House Speaker Paul Ryan.
The fiery, never-give-in ultra-conservative wing of the GOP is highly displeased with the budget agreement reached this week.
“Instead of fighting for President Trump’s conservative budget priorities, they have surrendered to the Democrats once again,” Ken Cuccinelli, a former Virginia attorney general who heads the Senate Conservatives Fund, said of congressional Republican leaders
Democrats are elated over the $1.07 trillion budget deal, which reads almost like an Obama administration blueprint.
“Early on in this debate, Democrats clearly laid out our principles,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. “At the end of the day, this is an agreement that reflects those principles.”
Gone is money for President Donald Trump’s border wall or efforts to deny Obamacare subsidies. There’s billions more for non-defense spending, and no changes to President Barack Obama’s Cuba policy.
“It’s no different than if Hillary was elected; it’s a huge loss, and I’m livid. Paul Ryan’s House is a not conservative House,” said tea party Republican Art Halvorson, who nearly defeated Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., in the 2016 primary with 49.4 percent of the vote.
Conservative groups are watching their members, too. Dozens are expected to vote no, meaning GOP leaders will need Democratic votes to pass the budget. Heritage Action, a leading conservative group, will likely make opposing the budget vote a key vote in its scorecard of votes to watch.
Ryan now faces the same challenge from the right as his embattled predecessor, John Boehner, R-Ohio. Boehner left the office in 2015 after conservatives grew increasingly disgusted with his leadership. They were upset over how time after time he made similar deals with Democrats to get fiscal matters resolved.
Conservatives, already frustrated in recent weeks at the leadership’s inability to get the votes to repeal and replace Obamacare, see a similar pattern emerging.
“Instead of defending status quo, GOP should be defending Constitution, Rule of Law, federalism, free speech/markets, responsible budgeting,” Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., said on Twitter.
While no viable challenge to Ryan appears imminent, the prospect of conservative primary challengers to GOP center-right loyalists looms.
“Republican leaders promised things would be different if Republicans won the White House, but this bill proves that nothing has changed,” said Cuccinelli. “This is why it is so important for Republican voters to elect true conservatives in the upcoming midterm elections.”
The party’s center-right incumbents face a different problem. Cooperation with Democrats could be to their advantage, but the party’s internal squabbles could depress enthusiasm among the GOP base, said Kyle Kondik, a political analyst at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
“Democrats are more likely to turn out because they are mad, and the flip side” is that maybe Republicans, if they are not getting what they want from a Republican-led Congress and Trump, become even less likely to turn out, Kondik said.
Depressed turnout at the polls could hurt the 23 Republicans in districts carried by Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016, including Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida and Kevin Yoder of Kansas. Republicans currently control 238 seats in the House of Representatives, with 218 needed for a majority.
Still, argued conservatives, there’s no need to work so closely with Democrats.
“In December, conservatives viewed this funding deadline as an opportunity to deliver on key administration priorities,” said Heritage Action spokesman Dan Holler. “Instead, this bill reflects little more than a desire to kick the can down the road with the promise of a real fight — a winning fight — in September.”
Julie McCarty, president of the NE Tarrant Tea Party in North Texas, said the latest budget proposal showed that the GOP stood for nothing.
“We tend to be more disgusted with so-called conservatives because they lie and deceive . . . consistently,” McCarty said. “At least we know what we're getting with the left.”
More center-right Republicans defended the deal as an important political step, a chance to show constituents that the GOP can work with Democrats.
Former GOP Chairman Michael Steele didn’t think Ryan will face the conservative revolt that Boehner did because “he’s got the blessing of the White House.”
He saw the agreement as evidence that Trump is learning the tough reality of governing.
“A lot of core things the party has promoted, and the administration promoted, just aren’t happening” in this budget, Steele said.
Bill Dal Col, who managed publisher Steve Forbes’ 1996 and 2000 Republican presidential campaigns, said congressional Republicans were willing to take a short-term hit to get beyond the budget and move to bigger targets: eliminating Obamacare and revamping the nation’s tax laws.
“I think the base, and particularly the Trump base, will forgive them,” Dal Col said. “There will be some grumbling, some rough water. But they will forgive them provided they use what they did to get to the two big issues: health care and taxes. There’s now no distraction with a deadline looming. So now focus, get taxes, get health care done.”
If Republicans fail to do that, then “we probably are standing a very strong chance of losing the House in 2018 and will not pick up nearly the Senate seats we should,” Dal Col said.