GOP Leaders Target Disruptive Conservative Hardliners

Amid Missouri’s legislative session, whether principled progress or political pandemonium would prevail hung in the air. Unfortunately, the latter took hold. Inspired by its Washington, D.C. counterpart, the newly formed Freedom Caucus brought the Senate to a standstill, demanding quicker action on Republican priorities. Tempers flared, insults were exchanged, and Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden responded by stripping prominent Freedom Caucus members of their committee chairmanships and prime Capitol parking spots.

This clash is not unique to Missouri. Republican legislative leaders across various state capitols grapple with an increasingly influential network of conservative lawmakers aiming to pull the party further to the right. Rather than focusing on Democrats, these lawmakers are targeting their party members, exposing deep divisions within the GOP ahead of the upcoming November elections, even as former President Donald Trump continues to consolidate party support.

The conservative Freedom Caucus, known for its part in ousting U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, has seen its influence expand since 2015. A notable milestone was the creation of the State Freedom Caucus Network in Georgia in 2021, signifying a major broadening of its reach. Currently, the network boasts chapters in 11 states and is looking to extend even further. In contrast to other groups with loose affiliations, chapters of the State Freedom Caucus are established exclusively by invitation from the national body and benefit from financial backing, which supports legislative vetting, strategy formulation, and the creation of publicity.

Members of the Freedom Caucus position themselves as the true conservatives within the Republican Party. They often push their colleagues into uncomfortable votes on amendments, obstruct or slow down debates to make a point and clash with Republican legislative leaders who they believe are not adhering to conservative principles. Their tactics have caused frustration among GOP leaders, who view them as obstructionist rather than principled conservatives.

In Missouri, members of the Freedom Caucus, including Senator Bill Eigel, have been pushing for legislation that would make it more challenging to amend the state constitution via citizen-initiated referendums, including those that pertain to abortion rights. To prompt a discussion on the matter, Caucus members halted Senate activities for a month. Meanwhile, in various states, members of the Freedom Caucus have advocated for limitations on transgender healthcare options and have urged for the mobilization of state National Guard units to the Texas-Mexico border as a strategy to manage migration issues.

However, it is not their policy positions that have ruffled the feathers of GOP leaders but rather their disruptive tactics. Rowden, frustrated with their obstruction, labeled Missouri’s Senate Freedom Caucus members as “a small group of swamp creatures” seeking to “destroy the institution.” He subsequently revoked their parking privileges and committee leadership positions. Similar incidents have occurred in Idaho, South Carolina, Georgia, and other states, with caucus members being excluded from party caucuses or facing denunciations for their behavior.