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Should The Freedom Caucus Be Afraid Of Donald Trump?

President Trump, apparently still frustrated by the opposition from the House Freedom Caucus that helped doom the GOP’s health care bill, threatened to “fight them ... in 2018.” In one of his tweets, he specifically blamed three members of the Freedom Caucus: Ohio’s Jim Jordan, Idaho’s Raul Labrador and North Carolina’s Mark Meadows, the caucus’s chairman.

It was a highly unusual move by a sitting president to so publicly and specifically target members of his own party. And the reference to 2018 had obvious implications: The president might try to prevent the 30-plus members of the Freedom Caucus from winning re-election next year. Should those members be afraid? The data suggests that some of them should be more worried than others.

Of the 32 representatives who have been identified as members of the Freedom Caucus,1 the majority (25 of 32) live in strongly conservative districts, with the member winning by more than 20 percentage points in 2016. So a Republican primary challenge would be the easier way to knock off a Freedom Caucus member.

Trump, however, doesn’t have the same level of sway among Republican voters in every district. In last year’s Republican primaries, Trump won over his long list of rivals in 20 of the 32 Freedom Caucus districts. (Ted Cruz was the winner in nine districts, John Kasich two and Marco Rubio one.)2

Alex Mooney WV-2 1% 7% 2% 10% 76%
Stevan Pearce NM-2 3 6 0 13 74
Andy Harris MD-1 0 18 1 16 63
Scott Perry PA-4 1 15 1 24 59
Paul A. Gosar AZ-4 1 7 8 27 54
Ron DeSantis FL-6 2 7 23 15 52
Ted S. Yoho FL-3 1 5 21 22 49
Trent Franks AZ-8 1 10 13 25 48
Mark Meadows NC-11 1 0 8 43 48
Morgan Griffith VA-9 0 5 21 19 48
David Schweikert AZ-6 1 14 14 22 47
Bill Posey FL-8 2 7 24 19 47
Scott DesJarlais TN-4 1 4 18 26 42
Andy Biggs AZ-5 1 10 12 32 41
Warren Davidson OH-8 0 41 2 14 41
Mo Brooks AL-5 0 5 22 20 41
Jody B. Hice GA-10 1 4 21 27 40
Tom Garrett Jr. VA-5 0 7 25 20 39
Gary J. Palmer AL-6 0 5 22 25 37
Jim Jordan OH-4 0 43 2 17 36
Raúl R. Labrador ID-1 0 7 12 46 33
Dave Brat VA-7 0 9 35 18 32
Jeff Duncan SC-3 8 6 21 25 31
Brian Babin TX-36 1 2 10 47 30
Randy Weber TX-14 1 3 14 47 30
Mark Sanford SC-1 9 12 26 18 29
Jim Bridenstine OK-1 0 4 28 33 27
Joe Barton TX-6 1 4 18 44 27
Justin Amash MI-3 1 25 11 33 26
Louie Gohmert TX-1 1 3 12 52 25
Rod Blum IA-1 2 2 22 29 25
Trump’s primary performance in Freedom Caucus districts

Vote shares are rounded. There is no official list of Freedom Caucus members; this list was compiled from Wikipedia and media reports as of March 30, 2017.

Sources: media reports, Daily Kos Elections, David Wasserman

There was a wide degree of variance in Trump’s wins. He won about 76 percent of the vote in the West Virginia district of Alex Mooney. The demographics of West Virginia were very favorable to Trump, but the state’s primary also occurred after Cruz and Kasich had dropped out of the race, essentially conceding the nomination to Trump. He won 74 percent of the vote in New Mexico Rep. Steve Pearce’s district, but that primary too was well after the nomination battle was truly contested.

Trump won more than 50 percent of the primary vote in four other districts represented by Freedom Caucus members: Arizona’s Paul Gosar, Florida’s Ron DeSantis, Maryland’s Andy Harris and Pennsylvania’s Scott Perry. The primaries in those states occurred while Cruz and Kasich were still actively running.

So using Trump’s primary performance as an imperfect proxy for his pull, these six members should perhaps be most concerned about the White House, either publicly or behind the scenes, backing a primary challenger to them.

Interestingly, none of these six were the major public faces of the Freedom Caucus’s opposition to the health care bill. In the district of North Carolina’s Meadows, the most visible figure in opposition to the Trump health care proposal, Trump won, but narrowly. Cruz received 43 percent of the vote there, compared with Trump’s 48 percent. Jordan of Ohio, another strong opponent of the health care proposal, represents a district where 36 percent of Republicans backed Trump, but 43 percent were behind the state’s governor, Kasich.3

Trump’s worst performance in a Freedom Caucus district was in Iowa’s 1st Congressional District, represented by Rod Blum. Trump won just 25 percent of the vote there, compared with Cruz’s 29 percent. This low percentage for Trump may also reflect the large number of candidates who were running in Iowa, which was the first contest of the primary season. Trump was soundly defeated in the district of Idaho’s Labrador, losing by about 13 percentage points to Cruz (33 percent to 46 percent.) And South Carolina’s Mark Sanford has said that Trump’s budget director, Mike Mulvaney, warned him of a potential primary challenge, with Trump’s backing, during a meeting on health care between Sanford and Mulvaney. Trump won Sanford’s district, but barely, carrying 29 percent of the vote, compared with Rubio’s 26 percent.

Trump, in other words, has specifically called out some of the Freedom Caucus members he might have the least leverage over.

In terms of the general election, Freedom Caucus members generally outperformed Trump. All but five4 won by a larger margin in their districts than Trump did.

Alex Mooney WV-2 +16.4 +36.4 +20.0
Scott DesJarlais TN-4 +30.1 +41.2 +11.1
Raúl R. Labrador ID-1 +36.4 +38.3 +1.9
Morgan Griffith VA-9 +40.3 +41.5 +1.2
Mark Meadows NC-11 +28.2 +29.4 +1.2
Ron DeSantis FL-6 +17.1 +17.0 -0.1
Mo Brooks AL-5 +33.5 +33.4 -0.1
Ted S. Yoho FL-3 +16.8 +16.0 -0.8
Jim Jordan OH-4 +36.0 +33.6 -2.4
Paul A. Gosar AZ-4 +42.9 +40.2 -2.7
Louie Gohmert TX-1 +49.8 +46.9 -2.9
Randy Weber TX-14 +23.7 +19.8 -3.9
Rod Blum IA-1 +7.7 +3.5 -4.2
Gary J. Palmer AL-6 +49.1 +44.7 -4.4
Thomas Garrett Jr. VA-5 +16.7 +11.1 -5.6
Joe Barton TX-6 +19.3 +12.3 -7.0
Andy Biggs AZ-5 +28.2 +21.1 -7.1
Warren Davidson OH-8 +41.8 +34.5 -7.3
Jeff Duncan SC-3 +45.8 +38.0 -7.8
Mark Sanford SC-1 +21.7 +13.1 -8.6
Dave Brat VA-7 +15.3 +6.5 -8.8
Ken Buck CO-4 +31.9 +23.1 -8.8
Bill Posey FL-8 +30.6 +20.7 -9.9
Andy Harris MD-1 +38.4 +28.4 -10.0
Scott Perry PA-4 +32.1 +21.5 -10.6
Justin Amash MI-3 +22.0 +9.4 -12.6
David Schweikert AZ-6 +24.3 +10.0 -14.3
Stevan Pearce NM-2 +25.5 +10.2 -15.3
Brian Babin TX-36 +88.6 +46.8 -41.8
Trent Franks AZ-8 +68.6 +21.1 -47.5
Jim Bridenstine OK-1 +100.0 +28.7 -71.3
Jody B. Hice GA-10 +100.0 +25.5 -74.5
Trump’s general election performance in Freedom Caucus districts

There is no official list of Freedom Caucus members; this list was compiled from Wikipedia and media reports as of March 30, 2017.

Sources: media reports, Daily Kos Elections, David Wasserman

Trump carried the districts of Virginia’s David Brat and Michigan’s Justin Amash, but only by single-digit margins. Brat and Amash were both strong critics of the Trump health care bill. Amash won by about 13 percentage points more than Trump in his district, Brat about 9 points. Indeed, Amash, at least, does not seem cowed at all:

What does this data not account for? Money and energy. Last year, Kansas’s Roger Marshall defeated then-Freedom Caucus member Tim Huelskamp, with Marshall benefiting from outside groups aligned with the GOP establishment who wanted to knock off Huelskamp and punish him for his breaks with party orthodoxy. A well-organized effort, backed by Trump, to knock off Republican incumbents could be formidable, particularly if the president was willing to publicly campaign against Freedom Caucus members and raise money for their challengers.

It’s not clear how far Trump’s tweets alone can go in forcing Freedom Caucus members to fall in line — we are in truly uncharted territory. We have never before had a president who threatened members of his own party through his Twitter account.

Harry Enten contributed research.


  1. The Freedom Caucus does not have an official membership list. To compile our list, we started with all the members according to Wikipedia, then checked every name against media reports. We included only representatives who have been identified as members of the Freedom Caucus in at least one report. We also sent our final list to a spokesperson for the Freedom Caucus for confirmation but have not heard back.

  2. Colorado had a state convention, not a formal primary or caucus. Cruz won a majority of the delegates at the convention, so we have considered the district of Ken Buck, a Freedom Caucus member, as won by Cruz, but Buck is not included in the table below.

  3. The candidacies of Cruz and Kasich are a complicating factor in assessing Trump’s primary performance and how it might impact Freedom Caucus members. Four Freedom Caucus members (Brian Babin, Joe Barton, Louie Gohmert and Randy Weber) are from Cruz’s home state, and the Texas senator won the state overall and all four of those districts. Jordan and Warren Davidson are from Ohio, where Kasich won the state, including their districts. (Trump did win in the districts of the three Freedom Caucus members from Florida, suggesting he is particularly strong there, since Rubio ran hard to win his home state.)

  4. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee, Morgan Griffith of Virginia, Meadows, Labrador and Mooney.

Perry Bacon Jr. was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.