Indiana Rep. Jim Banks spends a lot of time thinking about the future of conservatism and the Republican Party following President Donald Trump’s presidency. In fact, as the chairman of the Republican Study Committee and a rising star in the House, he sees it as his job.
Made up of more than 150 House Republicans, the group “is really the catalyst for defining who conservatives are, what we believe in, and where the conservative movement is going,” Banks told the Washington Examiner in an interview. “We’ve dedicated almost all of our conversations to that.”
Banks, 41, described in a measured tone how to build a new conservative consensus. If Republicans can “marry” the pro-family, peace-through-strength Reaganism with Trump-era populist themes such as confronting China and taking a stronger stance on immigration, “we’re gonna win the majority in the midterm, we’re gonna win back the White House in 2024.”
Since taking the reins as the Republican Study Committee’s chairman for the 117th Congress, Banks has worked to raise its profile, wanting the group “to be in the fight, to be relevant.” He beefed up its communications staff, which started a newsletter aimed at its members and their offices. The group was off to the races organizing public stances on issues, including a January letter from 200 Republicans in support of the Hyde Amendment, which bars the use of taxpayer funds for abortion in most cases.
One of the most popular features among members is Banks’s practice of bringing high-profile speakers to the group as a way of vetting and testing messages and policy, including potential Republican 2024 candidates such as former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Last month, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio delivered a speech that challenged “the orthodoxy that the market’s always right” to an overflow room of engaged Republican Study Committee members.
Banks “takes it to another level,” Arizona Rep. Debbie Lesko said, adding that the networking and legislative write-ups have been “very helpful to my staff.”
And the Republican Study Committee under Banks is friendly with House Republican leadership, a dynamic that did not always exist for the group in the past.
Minority Whip Steve Scalise, who Banks called a “spiritual godfather” of the committee, is a former chairman of the group and still attends its meetings, putting a stamp of approval on Banks.
“He’s a quiet leader. He’s somebody who rolls up his sleeves and works, and he really likes getting into the policy, which I appreciate,” Scalise told the Washington Examiner, adding that the group is the House GOP’s “conservative policy rudder.”
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy appeared onstage with Banks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, and the two heaped compliments on each other. His leaning on Banks stood in contrast to his icy relationship with then-No. 3 House Republican Liz Cheney, whose vocal criticism of Trump’s election fraud claims later frustrated him and the conference to the point of removing her as conference chairwoman in May.
In the interim, Banks filled a messaging void, delivering policy arguments that Cheney would not. Chief among them: Trump still has a role in the Republican Party.
In a March memo, Banks argued that Trump gave the Republican Party a “gift” by turning it into the party supported by working-class voters and that it should work to “permanently become the party of the working class,” in part by putting a focus on immigration and border security, being wary of empowering China through trade, “anti-wokeness,” and Big Tech censorship. Cheney reportedly criticized the memo, arguing that going after the private sector while dividing classes is neo-Marxist.
While Cheney warned colleagues against emboldening Trump’s election fraud claims by ignoring them, Banks and the Republican Study Committee are formulating legislation aimed at “restoring trust” to the electoral system.
It’s a delicate balance to address the Republican base’s concerns with election integrity and counter Democrats’ sweeping “For the People Act” election reform legislation without giving fuel to false conspiracies alleging mass fraud. But Banks says it must be addressed, citing a Morning Consult poll that found 47% of the public lacks trust in elections.
“That should be deeply troubling to any American,” Banks said. “Many of us can say and believe that Joe Biden was elected president and still believe that there were serious issues with how the election in November was conducted.”
When it comes to conservative coalitions in the House, casual observers might be more familiar with the confrontational and headline-grabbing Freedom Caucus. The group helped push out former House Speaker John Boehner in 2015 and forced Republican leaders to bend to its will when they were in the majority.
Banks sees his group, with its roots in the pre-Reagan-era 1970s that transformed the American conservative movement, as more of a policy shop than a war room charting procedural delays and clashes with leadership. “RSC doesn’t compete with Freedom Caucus,” he said, noting that many members of the Freedom Caucus are also members of the Republican Study Committee.
Personally, Banks has avoided some Freedom Caucus battles, such as breaking with firebrand Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene’s unannounced motions to adjourn as a way to delay votes on legislation she finds objectionable. At the time, Banks said that he did not understand the strategy.
Banks’s own family history shows the “unfolding of the American dream,” and that the ideological battle is personal for him. His grandfather was a coal miner in Kentucky before moving to Indiana, and his father went on to work at an automobile parts factory in Fort Wayne, where dozens of other family members have worked, including his youngest brother. His mother has been a cook all her life.
“My dad certainly hated politics and politicians,” Banks said. But his father was excited about Trump, supporting him long before any others. “He was more excited on election night when Donald Trump won than when I won my congressional race” the same night.
Banks was the first in his family to get a college degree, joined the Indiana state Senate in 2010, and took a leave of absence to deploy to Afghanistan with the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2014 and 2015.
Trump, Banks said, “certainly taught us a number of lessons about how to fight back,” he said. “Many Americans are awakened to the importance of fighting the culture war more than ever before.”
Banks’s steering of the Republican Study Committee during Cheney’s decline and friendliness with leadership prompts speculation that he is angling to move up the ranks of House Republicans after his two-year term is up.
Asked if he wants to be in leadership, Banks responded that with his role right now, “I feel like I am.”
Emily Brooks is a Washington Examiner political reporter.
Source: Washington Examiner : The unofficial thought leader of the House GOP