A few weeks ago the House Freedom Caucus was being roundly pummeled by the media, liberal and pseudo-conservative alike. This small band of conservative House members had the audacity to challenge the status quo in Congress, and in the eyes of Washington's comfortable elites, that's a serious offense.
For years, Washington's chattering class has guarded the status quo on behalf of the Establishment. But despite the howls of media outrage, the Freedom Caucus persevered and succeeded in making changes that brought in a new speaker of the House. With a new speaker come new opportunities, a chance for conservatives to sit at the legislative table and be heard by their leaders.
Since its founding this January, the House Freedom Caucus, led by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, has fought to stop business-as-usual in Washington. They are dedicated to saving their fellow Americans from the irresponsible federal spending and borrowing we've seen over the last decade.
This support for commonsense policies has led the Establishment to brand them as "radical" and "ultra-conservative." In reality, of course, they are merely advocating for doing what Republican leaders pledged to do if voters gave them majorities in both houses of Congress.
The Freedom Caucus exists to serve as a strong, conservative conscience guiding Congress. With only 40 members, its numbers are small. As a minority, it has had to use the only tools available to them: Stoking public opposition to bad legislation and refusing to blindly follow procedures used by congressional leadership to control the agenda.
That approach offends some. But it has given hope to millions of conservatives who felt betrayed after giving Republicans the power to stand up to President Obama's reckless expansion of government.
Washington is a cesspool of special interests. Leaders in both parties have acquiesced to the money and influence of Big Business, Big Labor and high-powered special interests. It will take years to change the Washington culture and reverse the damage caused by this sort of cronyism.
But Conservatives have already made a lot of progress. In 2007, they fought the Bigs on the amnesty immigration bill and won. After the 2010 Tea Party election, they forced the leaders of both parties to accept a ban on congressional earmarks, making it much harder for leaders to buy votes for bad legislation by giving members money for pet projects back home. And, with the rise of independent news outlets and social media, conservatives inside and outside of Congress are now doing a much better job of informing and activating the American public.
All these developments have made it harder for congressional leaders to fool voters with procedural charades, pretend votes and manufactured crises.
John Boehner's resignation can be traced directly to the modest conservative victories that have made it difficult to continue business as usual in Congress. The House Freedom Caucus, with the support of many conservative groups around the country, disrupted the status quo. They did the hard and thankless work of clearing the path for a new Republican speaker of the House.
Does this mean everything will come up roses? No. But the present challenges bring to mind words from Ecclesiastes: a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up. (Or perhaps you recognize these words from the 1960s Byrds' song — not quite as authoritative, but catchy.)
Now is a time to build up. Members of the Freedom Caucus, at great political risk and under fire from members of their own party, have spent the last year killing bad policies and breaking down establishment power structures. Now, with a new speaker, conservatives have something they haven't had in a while: An opportunity to advance their agenda and block the progressives.
It's not a perfect situation, but it'll be what conservatives make of it. If the House Freedom Caucus keeps the GOP leadership honest and stays true to their revolutionary spirit, 2016 will be a lot more productive for conservatives than 2015.
-A former U.S. senator from South Carolina, Jim DeMint is president of the Heritage Foundation.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Examiner