Gone but not forgotten.

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Republicans Chase Imaginary Rockefellers

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.
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Remember the House Freedom Caucus? It is the group of conservatives who broke away from the conservative Republican Study Committee because the RSC wasn’t conservative enough for them.

Well, they have finally settled on their signature issue: fighting to kill the Export-Import Bank. Matt Fuller at Roll Call has all the details.

Isn’t this issue a bit underwhelming?

The radicals are framing it as a fight over whether the Republican Party and the conservative movement will be a collection of interests, including business interests, or whether it will be an advocate for pure ideological positions.

Caucus member Jeb Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, puts it this way: “Do we stand for free enterprise interests and its hope, its fairness and its opportunity? Or do we stand for business interests? Because those two are not identical.”

“Free enterprise interests”? "Free enterprise" isn’t a thing that has interests! People, groups and corporations have interests. Free enterprise (or capitalism at any rate) is a system of organizing the economy. It creates (and destroys) companies, yes.

One may argue that a particular set of rules is good for some people (groups, corporations) and bad for others. One can support free enterprise, oppose it or take a position somewhere in the middle. But support of "free enterprise" per se -- that is, because it's good in and of itself, regardless of whom it helps or hurts? Hensarling is talking ideology.

That’s the framing. But conservatives (including the RSC) already opposed the Export-Import bank long before the “Freedom Caucus” was created.

In other words, it’s still unclear if the Freedom Caucus is anything more than another step in the endless one-upmanship over who gets to be the True Conservative.

Or it isn't about interests or ideology. It's just about selling something to the easy marks (found among some consumers in the conservative marketplace and voters in Republican primaries) who are eager to believe, regardless of the obvious evidence that the real fight over Republican ideology ended decades ago, that Nelson Rockefeller is lurking behind every Republican and every conservative.

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To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at jbernstein62@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at kroberts29@bloomberg.net