Part Two: Barbarians at the Gate

“The rise of the CMC”



Quietly but effectively, a new group has been created by conservative legislators.

RTP has been informed the group, which was formed earlier this year by House conservatives, believe the time has come to begin exerting a level of influence reflective of their growing numbers. Tension had been brewing for several years, but the victory against Common Core during the 2014 session lit the fuse.

The final straw came last summer during the Republican primaries. Gov. Haslam and his chief of staff, Mark Cate, helped direct the formation of a pop-up PAC called AdvanceTN. The unprecedented purpose of the PAC was to recruit opponents and target incumbent Republican legislators who had opposed Common Core as well as other administration initiatives. It was an unmitigated failure.  The governor-inspired PAC was able to defeat just one vulnerable House member, Rep. Tony Shipley.  The conservatives countered by knocking off two of the governor’s loyal legislators, for a net change in favor of the House conservatives. For the most part, leadership stood by and remained silent while their colleagues were being attacked. Their silence was noted and not likely to be forgotten anytime soon..

“The governor and his allies made a very serious miscalculation with AdvanceTN,” said one conservative legislator. “He laid down the gauntlet and we picked it up.”

After the battle against Advance TN PAC, the conservatives were loaded for bear. Their failure to run a slate of conservative candidates in leadership election in late 2014 taught the group a lesson: you have to be organized to be effective.

Thus the Conservative Majority Caucus was born.

The new conservative group within the House Republican Caucus, which began with an organizing committee of just a handful of members, has quickly doubled to approximately twenty members, with more legislators waiting in the wings to join. Such numbers indicate it is potentially a force to be reckoned with. It also has a proposed name: “The Conservative Majority Caucus,” or the CMC. One of the members joked that CMC could also stand for the “Cave Man Caucus” and added: “but you can call us anything you want – just so long as you call us.”

The inspiration behind the CMC?

The inspiration behind the CMC?

More details are emerging as to how the CMC came together. One of RTP’s Washington sources said the new group looks suspiciously like the old Congressional organization called the Conservative Opportunity Society (COS)  The Society was organized by a little-known backbench conservative named Newt Gingrich, who along with a handful of conservative colleagues used the COS to establish a set of conservative principles to serve as a guide to Republicans in the House and as a base to wrest control from the more liberal leadership. Once in power, the COS engineered the 1994 Republican takeover of the House, using their “Conservative Principles” as the foundation for the now-famous “Contract with America.”  The backbencher became the Speaker of the House.

In the current Congress, conservatives in the House have recently organized a group very similar to Tennessee’s CMC. It’s called the House Freedom Caucus, with goals and motives comparable to the CMC.

At its peak, the Congressional Conservative Opportunity Society only had about 30 members — or about 15% out of 190 House Republicans. “With our current membership we have nearly doubled that percentage,” said one CMC legislator. “And we are still growing.”

Coming up:

Part Three: “Picking a fight — and winning”

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