The House Freedom Caucus rallied against Speaker Paul Ryan Wednesday after he suggested that the conservative members rein in their goals while Democrats control the executive branch.
“When voices in the conservative movement demand things that they know we can’t achieve with a Democrat in the White House, all that does is depress our base and in turn help Democrats stay in the White House,” Ryan said during a speech at the Conservative Policy Summit, hosted by Heritage Action. “We can’t do that anymore.”
Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard and moderator of the discussion among Freedom Caucus members, provoked harsh criticisms from the conservative lawmakers after detailing Ryan’s comments.
“I understand what Paul is saying, or trying to say, but let’s look at the reality,” Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said during the summit.
“You have the Republican Party on one hand saying ‘be realistic,’ which I think we should be, but don’t engage in fights that you can’t win. The Democratic Party, on the other hand, is telling their voters that ‘we’re going to do the things that you want us to do.’”
The “realism” House leadership is pushing conservatives to embrace during the next year, Labrador said, is the same mentality that lost Republicans the White House and the Senate during the 2012 elections.
“Our leadership is telling us to be realistic, and it’s through realism that we’re going to win national elections,” Labrador remarked. “Well, guess what: We were realistic in 2012, and with all due respect, not only did we lose the presidency, we lost the Senate.”
While the GOP maintained its hold on the House, Labrador noted that the party lost the national vote by over 1 million votes.
“If you want to lose, then become realistic and not aspirational about the things that we can accomplish and we’re willing to do together,” he said.
Freedom Caucus member Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., also pushed back against Ryan, agreeing that conservatives must remain realistic, but they should not give up their policy fights for the rest of the year because a Democrat is in the White House.
“The role of politics is not to set the bar of expectations as low as possible so that elected officials cannot help but trip over them,” Mike Needham, CEO of Heritage Action, said. “It is to cast a vision of what we can achieve—to start a debate with those who disagree, to have that debate, and to win that debate.”