How Crazy Are the New House Republicans?

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Jan. 3 2013 9:50 PM

How Crazy Are These Guys?

Meet the new House Republicans—a little more experienced and not all crazy.

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The movement lifers. Pennsylvania’s Keith Rothfus went from Pat Robertson’s Regent University to the Bush administration office of faith-based initiatives. North Carolina’s George Holding trained under Jesse Helms, then became a U.S. attorney, then became famous for prosecuting John Edwards but quit (to run for Congress) before the case was lost. Missouri’s Ann Wagner served her party faithfully and was rewarded when she became George W. Bush’s ambassador to Luxembourg. Dogma rating: Average.

The pundit-politicians. The most reliably bombastic member of the last Congress was Allen West, who started his political career by writing blog posts for the woman who now puts up posters in New York City subways to scare people about terrorism. Utah’s Chris Stewart writes novels in which the coming of Christ is preceded by electromagnetic pulse attacks. Florida’s Trey Radel built a following by hosting a conservative talk show; Ron DeSantis wrote a book of American homilies with a title that needled Barack Obama, Dreams From Our Founding Fathers. “Obama gravitated toward radical politics more in line with his father's socialism than with the principles underlying the Constitution,” wrote DeSantis, while wondering which religion the president had inherited: “Muslim, or other.” (It’s “other.”) Dogma rating: High, mighty.

The upsetters. Three of today’s anti-Boehner votes came from members who’d taken out their party’s favored candidates. Sitting next to some newfound friends, fellow insurgents, was Tom Massie, who owes his seat to a wealthy young Ron Paul fan’s super PAC. There was Ted Yoho, a veterinarian who tells his frequent profile-writers stuff like, “Intimidating is going up to a growling rottweiler and having to squeeze his anal gland.” And then there was Steve Stockman, a member of the 1994 wave who was turfed out after speculating that the government’s assault on the Branch Davidian compound was staged “to prove the need for a ban on so-called assault weapons.” Republicans dreaded these guys, and they know it, and they can act accordingly. Dogma rating: Unchartable.

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The rest of the new class fit comfortably in the middle of this pack. They all voted for Boehner today; they have all passed the key ideological tests set up by the GOP’s new gatekeepers. In eight-odd weeks, they will make the demands for President Obama to meet or ignore when he wants to pass the debt limit. They’ll decide how well they can sell Paul Ryan’s budgets back home.

Congress’s less conservative Republicans sounded optimistic on Thursday. “We all have strongly held views,” said Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, whose district in the Philadelphia suburbs voted for Barack Obama and John Kerry. “We bring them here, but then we hold that voting card, and we keep in mind that we’re speaking for 700,000 people.”

Not far from Fitzpatrick, picking up the button that would identify her as a member of Congress, was newly elected Jackie Walorski. She was a perfect median member of the conference: a conservative legislator—ideological, but experienced—who narrowly won a seat that had been gerrymandered to go Republican. I asked her what it was like to watch the old, larger Republican majority stagger toward the “fiscal cliff deal,” wrapping up a crisis it had basically started in order to reduce the federal debt.

“It was frustrating to watch,” she said, “but we’ll probably have a lot of nights like that.”