Erick Erickson: The Reality of Small Margins

The perspectives and thoughts expressed in this op-ed are the exclusive purview of the author.

I support limited government because I am a Christian. I believe we are all sinners. I want as few in charge of me as possible. In Congress, conservatives are agitating against a $1.7 trillion spending package negotiated by Speaker Mike Johnson. Johnson is unquestionably a conservative, but the Speaker of the House of Representatives has greater obligations than just to cater to the conservative movement.

Johnson’s plan does not cut as much as conservatives want. The plan, negotiated with Democrats, would scuttle the extra money sent to the Internal Revenue Service and would claw back unspent COVID appropriations. Conservatives want more and, this past week, obstructed votes on the House floor in protest.

The problem is straightforward. Last year, moderate Republicans sided with conservative Republicans in the House for massive cuts in government. Then McCarthy advanced that plan. But before it could get to the finish line, a small number of populists in the House scuttled it by ending McCarthy’s tenure. The moderates felt betrayed.

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Now, many of those moderates have had enough of what they perceive is a clown show. They are retiring and the incentives that come with being held accountable to the electorate are gone. The Republicans have a three-seat majority.

In 2022, Republicans had a strong path to a large majority. But Republican voters in various parts of the country decided to back weak candidates who suffered both foot-in-mouth disease and could not stop arguing about the 2020 election. As a result, for the first time since 2002, independent voters backed the party controlling the White House in the midterm election. Exit polling, which is a pretty accurate snapshot of voters who actually voted, found that 13% of Republicans also sided with Democrats. While abortion played a role in some areas, the conversations with the voters showed the decision was mostly a rejection of Trump-affiliated candidates who could not let go of 2020. It turns out Joe Biden’s arguments about democracy had an impact — more than I and others expected.

The result is a slim House majority. The candidates who failed were poor matches for their districts, but they tickled the ears of primary voters who were more interested in grievance than winning. Conservatives and Republican populists frustrated by the inability to get anything done in Washington should consider the GOP primaries. Blake Masters, Herschel Walker, Mehmet Oz, etc., cost them the Senate. Then there were the clowns in the House races. John Gibbs, Joe Kent and others were all terrible fits for their districts.

A great example is Bo Hines in North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District. The district is a Republican district. Hines ran as a populist who focused on relitigating 2020 with the backing of Marjorie Taylor Greene and Donald Trump. The Democrats won the district, barely. Hines was a bad candidate, but he tickled the ears of primary voters.

Now, in 2024, conservatives cannot get anything done in the House. They are frustrated and feel betrayed by Johnson. The painful truth is the conservatives were betrayed by primary election voters in Republican-leaning districts who foisted candidates on their congressional districts who were poor matches to those districts.

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With the McCarthy ouster, moderate Republicans have no incentive to help conservatives in the House get anything done. If conservatives obstruct or shut down the government now, the moderates will simply start cutting deals with the Democrats. After all, a good number of them have decided not to seek reelection. They have nothing to lose.

Conservatives are now forced to choose: Cut the IRS funding and take a bad deal, or see an even worse deal cut between moderate Republicans and Democrats. Some will loudly insist they will have clean hands and blame the moderates. Sure, but they’ll also, in doing so, be complicit in weaponizing the IRS when Johnson has ensured it will, now, suffer budget cuts. The choices suck because too many candidates in 2022 sucked. That is not Johnson’s fault. He has obligations, as Speaker, greater than catering to his own conservative tribe. If conservatives want to win, win primaries in 2024 with quality candidates, not clowns.

To find out more about Erick Erickson and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at


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