New class of combative MAGA candidates poised to roil House GOP

Anna Paulina Luna, a self-described “prolife extremist” and a stolen-election believer is running for a House seat in Florida. She has appeared on far-right talk show hosts such as Mike Lindell, MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, and Gateway Pundit.

Mike Collins, a Republican House candidate in Georgia, was seen in a tweet video carrying an assault rifle. He falsely claimed that Trump had won the state in 2020. He spoke on behalf of the defendants in the attack on Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021. In a Facebook post from last year, he stated that he had told a member the hard-right House Freedom Caucus to “Hold the Line Now, Help is on the Way.”

Oklahoma’s Freedom Caucus founder, Rep. Jim Jordan (R.Ohio), ran an ad supporting Josh Brecheen. He is a former state legislator who introduced laws against teaching evolution in schools. Now, he is running in a solidly-red congressional district.

Brecheen, Collins, and Luna are all candidates who could be joining the House class 2023 as freshmen if Republicans win a strong night on November 8. All of them are running with support from the House Freedom Caucus campaign arm. This hard-line bloc, which was founded as a tea party brotherhood and has since evolved to become the de facto vehicle of most House Republicans closely aligned to Trump’s Make America Great Again movement.

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In an October podcast interview, Rep. Andy Biggs (R.Ariz.), stated that “The Freedom Caucus” is where the fight is. “We had a great group of freshmen members (male and female) come into Freedom Caucus in 2020… and I’m seeing another strong crop of people entering the Freedom Caucus this year.”

The Freedom Caucus has been a strong opponent of bipartisan compromise for the past decade and caused headaches for Republican leaders. It could do the same again if it holds a slim majority of the deciding votes. Perry stated that the caucus would exert its influence to pressure Republican leadership on issues like repealing the IRS expansion and impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas. He also said that the group would investigate Attorney General Merrick Garland, abolish the Department of Education, and put pressure on Republican leaders on other issues.

Perry stated that “we need to hold investigations,” that people must be held accountable, and that we should be prepared to vote hard. “If we were in control, this would be what was happening. All we can do is force our leaders to have this conversation.”

Republicans will be watching closely on election night to see who will make up the GOP conference and which ideological group will hold the most influence. In a September interview, Rep. Ken Buck (R.Colo.), acknowledged that more pragmatic candidates could overpower the 35 ultraconservative members.

Buck, a member the caucus, said that “it really depends on how influential the Freedom Caucus is”

It will be easier for the Freedom Caucus to gain leverage if it increases its ranks in a significant way. Members have discussed making demands on leadership in return for their votes. This included a request to bring back the rule giving members the ability recall the speaker at any moment — a direct threat against Kevin McCarthy (R.Calif.), should he accept the whip.

They also want to have more influence on committees, where they have been largely excluded from service due to their conservative views. They want to see more than one representative on the Steering Committee. This committee determines the assignments of the committees and helps set the agenda with the leadership. They want to see more than Ohio’s Jordan serve as chair of the Steering Committee, which determines committee assignments and helps set the agenda with leadership.

McCarthy learned how to keep his Freedom Caucus members close after watching the Freedom Caucus remove John A. Boehner’s and Paul D. Ryan’s speakerships. McCarthy is already signaling that the bloc will accept some of its demands such as the repeal of the IRS expansion, blocking future assistance to Ukraine in the fight against Russia’s invasion and using the debt limit as leverage to secure concessions from the Biden government.

Privately, Republicans have admitted that they are focused on passing legislation and governing that is in line with their agenda. They don’t want to get into impeachment. A number of Republican members and their aides spoke anonymously to discuss private deliberations. They want to discourage calls from the far-right to impeach President Biden because they fear that this would be a precedent for the president being impeached if the opposition party wins the House majority.

Aides say McCarthy and other leaders have an advantage in keeping the caucus under control by embracing Jordan and listening. However, aides acknowledge that the success of managing Freedom Caucus depends on the conference’s size and composition.

McCarthy’s allies quietly worked to eliminate some controversial candidates in the primaries. They were aiming for a “governing majority”, which they called a raw majority, but with mixed results. Far-right nominees have made some races more competitive than before they failed. With the support of Trump and The House Freedom Fund, Joe Kent in Washington and Sandy Smith North Carolina overcame McCarthy’s resistance.

Kent spoke at a Jan. 6 rally in 2021. Now, Kent is up against Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (Democrat), who has raised over $2 million since the primary. Kent stated that machine guns should be allowed to people (federally banned from 1934). He also said that the Jan. 6, riot, looked like an intelligence operation and that those charged with attacking the Capitol were “political prisoners.”

Smith claimed that Smith “marched” from the Capitol to the Monument on the day of attack and called for execution of those she claims stole the 2020 elections. Smith has been charged with domestic violence and is currently on the defensive in a Trump-held district. According to the Cook Political Report, this race is likely to vote Democratic.

Trump supporters running in swing districts like John Gibbs in Michigan are avoiding revealing whether they will join the Freedom Caucus. Gibbs stated last month that he has not really made it this far. “I am focused on getting there in first place.”

Luna, the far-right Florida candidate, was able to withstand a $1.6million barrage by Republican donors, acting without McCarthy’s coordination. No