Congressman Gary Palmer, of Alabama’s sixth district, is rated the 13th most conservative legislator in Washington, according to Conservative Review’s tried-and-true scorecard. He was elected to the House of Representatives in 2014, riding a wave of small government conservatism all the way through his re-election in 2016. Palmer has served the people of Alabama’s sixth district honorably, voting and speaking every bit as conservatively as he campaigned. While most Republicans campaign like libertarians and govern like big government statists, Representative Palmer has a solid record of conservative governance and is the kind of Republican that gives the party hope going into 2018.
Republicans live much of their electoral lives in the non-existent fantasy land between their electorate’s conservative leanings (especially for midterm elections) and their hopes of appeasing the media and appearing pragmatic. The constant battle between appeasing extreme-right constituents and extreme-left media is too real for many Republican representatives. As a result, Republicans often fear media reprisal for voting for a bill they campaigned on supporting, such as the long-promised Obamacare Repeal. However, this political strategy is ultimately fatally flawed. There is virtually no realistic upside—the media and the Democrats will not suddenly become enamored by Republicans’ attempts at wooing them, as evidenced by all of political history.
There is, however, a tremendous downside—Republican voters will abandon their constituents, especially in off year elections when Republicans are in power. The best hope for Republicans who employ this strategy is to ride into the sunset as a rhetorical hero of the left and the media, and retire once it becomes plain that their voters won’t be turning out to support them – much like Jeff Flake. If seeking reelection, Republicans must abandon this sleight of hand and commit fully to realizing the conservative promises they made to their constituencies. Representative Gary Palmer is one of few Republicans who, combining ideological integrity with political savvy, has remained true to his conservative campaign promises. As a result, he enjoys sky-high approval ratings and is on his way to a relatively easy reelection in 2018.
Palmer has spent his time in the House actively securing his conservative bona fides. Most recently, Palmer cast a courageous “nay” vote on the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, the latest in a long line of egregious omnibus spending packages rammed through congress with little consideration, almost no debate, and virtually zero forethought. The GOP establishment rammed through the spending package, demanding support from it’s constituents. The Freedom Caucus, a group of conservative and libertarian representatives of which Palmer is a part, stood boldly to limit spending, reign in the bloated federal budget, and shed some light on the dark rooms in which these negotiations often take place. Unfortunately, Palmer’s effort and those of the rest of the Freedom Caucus were not enough to slow the runaway train of pork and waste that passed through the halls of congress last week.
Palmer and the Freedom Caucus understand a fundamental truth that too many politicians are happy to ignore—rhetoric and promises only work until people feel the hits in their wallet. While virtually all conservatives agreed that tax breaks were an essential step to drive an economy out of historically low growth, very few advocated for the timeless stance of fiscal conservatism. The problem, as Palmer and others realized, is that one cannot increase spending, lower revenue (however egregious it may be that the word “revenue” references taxation), and expect to speed up a lagging recovery. One might argue that the spending and taxation might reach equilibrium, citing some tortured analysis of the Laffer Curve. The Freedom Caucus is wise enough to recognize that not only are the figures and statistics leading to that conclusion highly questionable, but Americans will never live to see the results of such a balancing even if it were to occur. People—rightfully so— are not patient when their wallets get thinner due to preventable government incompetence.
Gary Palmer is not only a good and honorable conservative, but he is a shrewd politician. He understands the way that GOP voters think and react, while understanding that appealing across the aisle is largely a waste of time and political capital. We need more Republicans like him in Washington—pragmatic, wise, and savvy. I would humbly recommend to Paul Ryan that he hit the recruiting trail like Nick Saban… Get us more Gary Palmers!
Special thanks to Nick Briscoe and Daniel Bruce, members of my staff, for their help in writing, editing, and researching this article. Nick is a recent graduate of the University of Alabama and is the law firm manager. Daniel is a Political Science and Economics student at Auburn University and is my chief consultant. Both plan to attend law school in 2019.