Back in 2018, of course, the political media fixation du jour was The Squad, the group of young Democratic freshmen whose arrival supposedly heralded an age of pinko-progressive, social-media-fueled insurgency. Four years later, with Republicans recapturing the House, there’s a similarly excitable media narrative coalescing around the “Taliban 20”—the mostly early-career far-right members of Congress who nearly derailed Kevin McCarthy’s speakership this month. They are, in fact, a sort of inverse of The Squad, with a terminally online ideological agenda and a mission to reshape Washington in their own radical image.
Intriguingly, official Washington is already starting to treat them as a distinct power bloc, recognizing that these twenty-or-so members hold the key to McCarthy’s narrow majority. To wit: I’ve recently learned that FreedomWorks and the Heritage Foundation, among other conservative organizations, are scheduled to co-host a private reception for the twenty members on Wednesday night. (It’s unclear whether Rep. Victoria Spartz will be in attendance: I’m told that she was initially not part of the Never Kevins’ plans, and that her decision to throw in with them was a pleasant surprise. “She has been at a bunch of the events even though not fully part of the 20,” a source close to the bloc told me. “She’s still enjoying it.”)
Both groups are heavy hitters in conservative policy circles, and both have been trending more MAGA in recent years. FreedomWorks, the advocacy shop behind the House Freedom Caucus, was one of the first groups to demand that McCarthy make changes to legislative procedure, including the one-vote “motion to vacate” rule that allows any single member to force a vote of no confidence if he so much as sneezes at them on the wrong day. The Heritage Foundation has also undergone its own Trumpy conversion over the past several years, as I reported back in October. The Reagan-era think tank’s new president, Kevin Roberts, has steered the august institution in a decidedly nationalist-populist direction ever since he took office in 2021. But to see them specifically single out the Taliban 20 for recognition foreshadows the bloc’s growing importance in Washington, even beyond their unique leverage over McCarthy.