The establishment was celebrating when conservative Congressman Tim Huelskamp was defeated in his primary.
Huelskamp was a member of the House Freedom Caucus and one of the leaders of the push that ousted John Boehner as Speaker of the House.
But the establishment may have just poked a sleeping bear — and they might not like the results.
House Freedom Caucus members were enraged that Republican leadership subtly supported Huelskamp’s ouster.
Because he voted against Boehner for Speaker in 2013, Huelskamp was removed from the Agricultural Committee.
Since his district is dominated by farmers, this was a serious blow to his political prospects.
When Paul Ryan assumed the job of Speaker, Freedom Caucus members tried to get him to support Huelskamp’s reappointment to the committee.
But Ryan declined.
The House Freedom Caucus has its knives out for Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team after one of the group’s most prominent members lost his seat Tuesday to an establishment-backed rival in a GOP primary.
The bloc of hard-line conservatives is laying the blame for Rep. Tim Huelskamp’s landslide loss squarely at House leadership’s feet. They’re furious that Ryan did not do more to help the Kansas Republican, who lost to obstetrician and political novice Roger Marshall after the challenger pilloried Huelskamp for losing his prized spot on the Agriculture Committee.
Ryan refused before the election to promise publicly that Huelskamp would be reinstalled on the panel next year, saying he alone did not have the power to make such an assurance. That left Huelskamp unable to effectively counter the attacks.
Former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) backed an effort to remove Huelskamp from the panel three years ago as punishment for repeatedly defying leadership on big votes, something Ryan promised he would never do.
“Our leadership created this situation: They kicked him off a committee and then the whole campaign became, ‘Oh, Tim Huelskamp isn’t on the right committee,’” Freedom Caucus Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said in a phone interview Wednesday. “Are you kidding me? … He lost counties in western Kansas! That is his base! And he lost counties because of the agriculture issue! This is a problem.”
Establishment entities like the Chamber of Commerce and the Ricketts family group, Ending Spending, poured millions to prop up Huelskamp’s more moderate and leadership-friendly challenger.
In response to Huelskamp’s defeat, John Boehner toasted with a glass of champagne.
Turns out Speaker Boehner is indeed enjoying Kansas primary night. Just received this from former staffer! pic.twitter.com/hIzmFt8hn0
— carl hulse (@hillhulse) August 3, 2016
But the Freedom Caucus could have the last laugh.
Rather than be intimidated into falling in line behind leadership, Caucus members are discussing using their groups’ political funds in races against establishment Republicans who vote against conservatives.
Some are even contemplating voting against Ryan for Speaker if the Republicans retain their majority in the November elections.
To maintain his position as Speaker, Ryan must win a majority of votes from House members, which is 218 or more.
If the 40-member Freedom Caucus votes as a bloc, Ryan would be denied the Speakership and it would be thrown into an open election.
That would be the establishment’s worst nightmare.