8. Conservatives’ sales pitch to younger voters still needs some fine-tuning. During the Freedom Caucus Q&A, a young man stood up—prompting moderator Fred Barnes to crack, “You’re the only one under 60 who’s going to ask” a question—to say he would soon be graduating with his master’s degree and wanted the panelists’ thoughts on how to improve job prospects for his generation. Mulvaney responded by asking the guy what he’d studied. “U.S. history,” the young man replied. Solid, patriotic, non-multi-culti degree to make the likes of conservative icon and history professor Newt Gingrich proud, right? Not any more. Representative Mark Meadows promptly teased, “That’s the problem!” Everybody laughed. Mulvaney then launched into a lecture about how, back in his day, banks wouldn’t give a guy a student loan unless the applicant offered assurances that he would be able to pay it back some day. But now that the federal government just hands over the money, nobody bothers worrying about whether or not they’re pursuing a worthless degree. “This is not to denigrate or demean folks who want to study philosophy or U.S. history or anything,” Mulvaney assured the young scholar. “But you need to sort of consider job prospects when making those decisions.” It’s all well and good to go study “sub-Saharan African basket weaving,” quipped Mulvaney, but afterward “don’t come looking to us and say, ‘Where are the jobs for sub-Saharan basket-weavers?’” In a word: Wow.
9. The filibuster will endure. Nowhere are you likely to find greater hostility to the filibuster than among hard-charging, revolution-minded conservatives. (Do not ask a Freedom Caucuser about this topic unless you want your ears singed.) But while House Republicans are itching to blow it up, on the assumption that this will make it easier to get their policies through the upper chamber, few senators from either party (including the handful attending the summit) seem eager to relinquish this juicy bit of power. And since senators are the only ones with a say in the filibuster, don’t expect it to go anywhere any time soon, despite all the huffing and puffing.
10. For those who have wondered about the roots of conservatism’s antipathy toward “experts,” this summit was clarifying. More than one speaker made derisive references to “the rule of experts”—by which he meant that far too many regulations are set, not by elected officials, but by the wonks who make up the “fourth branch” of government (or “fifth branch,” depending on who was doing the counting): the federal bureaucracy. As policy specialists inside agencies, wonks do not face the voters every two, four, or six years. This makes them not directly accountable to We the People and so, by definition, dangerous. The particular regulation vexing conservatives at this gathering was the EPA’s newish Waters of the U.S. rule. But the problem, as they see it, runs well beyond any one agency, encompassing the entire concept of an expertise insulated from the whims of politics.
By day’s end, as the crowd drifted out of the auditorium in search of the bar, it was tough to tell whether attendees seemed energized, terrified, or ticked off. Most likely a bit of all three.