As recently as last week, there appeared to be a hope, however misplaced and however ephemeral, that Kevin McCarthy might avoid a government shutdown. Freedom Caucus leaders, including some of McCarthy’s staunchest critics, came together with Main Street Caucus “pragmatists” to negotiate a 30-day continuing resolution that would keep the money flowing, albeit at reduced levels, and harden the border, among other things. Alas, the bill was dead on arrival, given that Democrats control the Senate and the White House. Worse, the compromise didn’t actually have the buy-in of every Freedom Caucus member, depriving McCarthy of a majority vote in a single chamber of Congress.
Compromise is a lost art, and a dirty word, in Washington these days. But it’s especially impossible when large portions of the Republican base are averse to negotiating on their demands at all. “A lot of the members, as far as their constituents, they’re hearing overwhelmingly, shut it down,” a Republican close to House G.O.P. leadership and the Freedom Caucus negotiators told me. “Hold your ground,” the insider said, paraphrasing members’ constituent feedback. “Inflation and spending is too high. [Woke] policies, whether it’s D.O.J. or in the military, are just wrong.”
McCarthy, it appears, may have underestimated the dedication of the holdout faction—a loose, informal confederation of Freedom Caucus members, MAGA warriors, and pissed-off rank-and-filers—which even its most powerful members can’t control. Moreover, it appears that Republicans in general have misunderstood the diversity of their demands, which vary in their particulars from member to member, to the point that it can’t even be classified as a traditional Freedom Caucus-versus-establishment fight, or even a hardliner-versus-moderate fight. At best, it could be described as MAGA warriors versus realists, but even that would be too broad. “You’re dealing with lots of caucuses of one,” the Republican insider added. “It’s not like you’re negotiating with the Freedom Caucus. It’s individuals, one at a time… each kind of negotiating in a very freelance capacity. That takes time, and the goalposts keep moving.”