The 87 Republicans that propelled the House GOP into the majority in 2010 were a freshman class unlike any other. Some had prior experience in politics, but many others did not. Renee Ellmers came straight to Washington after 21 years as nurse in North Carolina. Steve Southerland owned a Florida funeral home. Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy was a reality TV star.
Nonetheless, the freshmen of 2010 arrived on Capitol Hill with a mission. As Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) told FRONTLINE, “We came not to do the same thing over and over, to change Washington, to change that conversation.” The debt ceiling offered an early opportunity, and as promised, the 87 helped shift not just the debate over spending, but also dynamics inside the Republican Party and Washington politics altogether.
For more on that legacy, FRONTLINE turned to Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, authors of It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. This is an edited transcript of that conversation: