In many cases, the Freedom Caucus actually drives policy to the left, as they leave the leadership no choice but to use Democratic votes to approve must-pass spending bills or keep the government from shutting down. But this is exactly what many Freedom Caucus members desire: by withdrawing their support for leadership, they can position themselves as true and pure conservatives.
Consequently, anyone looking to be Speaker—McCarthy, Scalise, Jordan, or otherwise—needs to not only find a way to win a majority on the floor during the election of the Speaker, but also needs to secure a party settlement that brings the various factions into an ongoing procedural coalition.
most of the Speaker’s political power is not derived from these formal authorities. Instead, he relies on the implicit and ongoing backing of a majority of the Members of the House to maintain his control over the chamber.
In the modern House, the Speaker almost always has a partisan majority that gives him this deferential backing to create a procedural coalition. That is, backbench members vote in lockstep on procedural matters such as what bills to consider and what rules to consider them under, even if they are opposed to the actual legislation.
n the modern House, the Speaker almost always has a partisan majority that gives him this deferential backing to create a procedural coalition. That is, backbench members vote in lockstep on procedural matters such as what bills to consider and what rules to consider them under, even if they are opposed to the actual legislation. They do this because the benefits they receive from the party, such as committee assignments, electoral support, and the help of other party members on bills they do like, outweigh the small costs of occasionally having bills on the floor they oppose. Bucking the party on procedural votes is a serious transgression.
This is why it never made any sense for McCarthy to seek Democratic votes to bail him out when his partisan procedural coalition was failing. If Democrats had helped McCarthy win the Speakership in January—perhaps by voting present, as many observers suggested they could do in exchange for some goodies—it might have won him the office, but it would have left him in the exact same bind on the very next vote (the vote on the rules package). Unless he was willing to create a permanent procedural majority coalition with the Democrats, there was no point in getting their help that one time. His only choice was to try to make peace with the GOP rebels. Ditto on the resolution to vacate the Speakership.
In some sense the Freedom Caucus can’t lose, because every loss is just another betrayal by the hated GOP leadership, which is often exactly what they are seeking.