Not long ago, it would have been ludicrous for the House speaker to approach the Republican Study Committee on bended knee, much less to depend on it to restore harmony to the conference. The committee's philosophy of governance would vex any speaker: Members consider themselves conservatives first and Republicans second. They did not come to Washington to play for the Republican team; they came to fight for conservative principles. If that means voting against party interests, so be it. For core RSC believers, ideological purity trumps legislative accomplishment. Period.
For decades, the group was seen as a parasitic anomaly—a fringe organization of hopeless ideologues surviving off the perception of undue moderation among Republican leadership. Several previous speakers had bullied or ignored it, and one even dissolved the RSC in a quest to squelch internal dissent. For decades, the committee's membership rolls were thin, and internal GOP debates didn't matter much anyway, because the party was in the minority.
But the 2010 midterms—thanks to an influx of ideologically charged lawmakers converging with an increasingly conservative GOP—changed everything. More than 60 of 85 GOP freshmen joined the Republican Study Committee, giving the group a record 164 members. The committee known as "the conservative conscience of the House" was now, for the first time in history, a majority of the House majority.
As a result, its influence grew geometrically, and, today, no single subgroup drives the legislative agenda like the RSC.
In this week's National Journal cover story, Tim Alberta looks at the cabal that has taken over the House of Representatives. In the video above, get inside the story with the author himself.