What's the best way to understand Tea Party freshman Dennis Ross of Florida? Go shooting with him.
ZOLFO SPRINGS, Fla. -- It's 7:30 a.m., and already the congressman and I are covered in blood.
Mine trickles out of a crescent-shaped gash on my forehead. It hurts, but the lingering buzz from our predawn whiskey shot helps.
The blood on Rep. Dennis Ross belongs to a 95-pound wild hog whose head he is removing with a hand saw. The skull plops to the ground. Ross yanks off the animal's skin and cuts open its belly with a bowie knife. He reaches inside and pulls out coils of slimy, gray intestines.
"It beats fundraising," he says with a grin.
DISTRACTED BY HOG HEADS
I had met Ross a few weeks earlier in his Capitol Hill office with a different sort of dissection in mind. National Journal had recently ranked him and nine other Republicans as the most conservative House members, and I wanted to see what made one of the most conservative members of the most conservative, powerful freshman class in the history of the House of Representatives tick.
After the 2010 midterms, the victorious Tea Party candidates vowed to shake Washington to its very core. But despite their bravado, a whole series of vote rankings (including NJ's) have painted them as not much different from the rest of the Republican conference. They diverge from leadership about as much as the old-timers do, although the rankings fail to capture some important dynamics. The only reason Washington had a debt-ceiling fight, for instance, was that the freshman class pushed the leadership into waging one. Even so, last week, the Tea-Party-before-the-Tea-Party-was-cool Club for Growth released a study asking whether the freshman class was really even Tea Party at all.