So far, conservative criticism has appeared to win out. Ryan signaled more work needed to be done to find common ground with his fellow Republicans on Thursday, despite reports that he had planned to hold a vote on the bill that week. “We’re trying to get this legislation right. We’re trying to reflect the consensus of our conference so that we can bring a bill to the floor that deals with this violence, that deals with terrorism,” he said at a press conference. “We’re not going to rush it. ”
It’s nothing new for conservative members of the House—and the House Freedom Caucus in particular—to protest the actions of Republican leaders. But factions within the House Republican coalition may grow increasingly divided with Donald Trump as the de facto Republican standard-bearer, argues Matt Mayer, a visiting fellow at the free-market oriented American Enterprise Institute. The reason? Trump’s presence at the top of the ticket creates more uncertainty than there might be during a typical presidential election for a variety of reasons such as his willingness to court controversy, stray from conservative orthodoxy, and the fact that he so far appears to be a weak general-election candidate.
That constellation of factors creates incentives for rank-and-file House Republicans to stray from the demands of GOP leaders and more strenuously emphasize the agenda that they believe constituents of their individual districts want enacted. “Republican lawmakers have more incentive now to double down and harden their position than look to GOP leaders for cues and work toward consensus simply for the sake of unity,” Mayer said.
For conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus, Trump’s rise to the top of the GOP presidential field is likely to be interpreted as a sign that bucking the establishment is a recipe for political success. That does, in fact, seem to be the lesson that at least some House conservatives have taken away from primary season: “The American people in the presidential elections this year are going for outsiders in record numbers because they want us to get something done up here that makes common sense,” Dave Brat, a Freedom caucus member and congressman from Virginia who defeated former Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a shocking upset, said. He criticized the impulse of the Republican Party to “bend over backward and appease.”
Moderate Republicans are unlikely to imitate Trump's anti-establishment impulses in quite the same way, but they too may be compelled to double down on their agenda in a way that could ultimately make consensus more difficult. Trump could prove politically toxic to moderate Republicans up for election in November. To win over voters, moderates may feel the need to go even further than they normally would to prove loyalty to their constituents. “In a moderate district, you’re thinking ‘Trump could cost me my seat so I have to be in lock step with my district’,” Mayer said. “That causes them to harden in moderation in a similar way to where more conservative members will be saying, ‘Well, people are so angry with Washington, I should double down in that fight, because I’ll be rewarded.’”