Friday morning, House Speaker John Boehner ‘tapped out’ of the long-simmering civil war in the GOP and announced his resignation, both as Speaker and as an Ohio Congressman, at the end of October.
His leadership of the House GOP majority has been rightly criticized by almost all wings of the Republican party. While his departure is important, but it is only the beginning of the necessary fight to rebuild the Republican brand.
While official Washington and media reeled from the shock of his announcement, Boehner put the best spin on his decision. It was his plan, he and his allies said, to retire at the end of last year. Rep. Eric Cantor’s loss in his primary that year prompted Boehner to stay on as Speaker, his allies now say. His new plan had been to retire at the end of this year, but he had chosen to depart now to avoid a scrambled leadership election.
“My first job as speaker is to protect the institution,” Boehner said. “It had become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution.”
So, now, there will be prolonged leadership turmoil as virtually every position in Republican leadership is now open. Boehner’s entire leadership team is now scrambling to all move up at least one rung on the power ladder.
The spin that Boehner’s departure was at a moment of his choosing was betrayed, naturally, by New York Rep. Peter King, a man whose heart bleats loudly from his sleeve.
“I think it signals the crazies have taken over the party, taken over to the party that you can remove a speaker of the House who’s second in line to be president, a constitutional officer in the middle of his term with no allegations of impropriety, a person who’s honest and doing his job. This has never happened before in our country,” King told CNN in an interview Friday.
King, it bears mentioning forever, is a long-time supporter of the IRA terrorist organization and an apologist for its one-time political leader Gerry Adams. He is perhaps not the best voice to chart a course for the Republican party.
Setting that aside, King’s outburst is a clear sign that Boehner was forced out by a growing conservative rebellion within the House caucus. Hill sources have told Breitbart News that there were around 50 Republican votes to support a resolution to force a new election for Speaker, introduced by NC Rep. Mark Meadows.
To remain Speaker, Boehner likely would have had to rely on votes from Democrats, an untenable position heading into a volatile Presidential primary election.
In fact, anger with Republican leadership in Washington has been one of the central features of the current primary campaign. Outsider candidates, as well as those who have been most pointed in their criticism of John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have been rewarded with boosts in the polls.
A FoxNews poll released on the eve of Boehner’s announcement found that 62% of Republican voters feel “betrayed” by party leaders in Washington. Even more, 66%, believe Republicans in Congress haven’t done enough to try to stop Obama’s agenda.
Make no mistake, the Republican establishment reads these polls as well as outside observers. Boehner’s problems with the GOP caucus went beyond conservatives and was starting to cause anxiety for a number of more moderate members who feared their prospects in upcoming primaries.
The fervent hope, for many Republicans in Washington, is that Boehner’s sacrifice will cool the anger of conservative and, increasingly, mainstream Republican voters. It is certainly possible that Boehner’s departure will bring down the thermostat temporarily, but the expected promotion of Boehner’s entire leadership team into new, more powerful positions indicates that Washington Republicans still don’t understand their growing discontent with their voters.
In a few weeks time, Boehner will be a memory, but the Senate Republicans will still be shepherded by Mitch McConnell and the House GOP will be led by Reps. Kevin McCarthy, Steve Scalise, and Cathy McMorris Rogers. Each of these, arguably, is less conservative personally than John Boehner. Each is perhaps even more wedded to the special interests and donor classes in Washington.
New House Leadership could very easily be a distinction without a difference.
While Boehner’s departure will put off immediate worries about a government shutdown this week, it sets up an inevitable clash over spending in just a few months. Before the end of the year, Congress will again have to authorize a new round of government spending and lift the debt ceiling.
Republican voters will not embrace another capitulation to Obama simply because the leaders pushing it aren’t named Boehner. It wasn’t Boehner, per se, that was the problem for Republican voters. It is the utter lack of any strategic thinking by Republicans in Washington.
Republican voters aren’t the “crazies” haunting the dreams of Peter King. They are Americans still struggling economically who have enormous anxiety and fear about the future. To them, the stakes in these debates actually matter. The also fully understand that Obama can veto anything substantive that Congress passes. They merely want their representatives to keep their word and make Obama actually issue those vetoes.
Forcing actions like that frame campaigns. By framing the campaign you can win elections. You win elections to do the things you promised, not survive another news cycle or get past another election.
The warped thinking of Washington Republicans is best evidenced by their existential fear of a government shutdown. They still believe that Sen. Ted Cruz’s ultimately quixotic attempt to stop Obamacare in 2013, causing the government to “shut down” for 16 days, did irreparable damage to the Republican party.
Just one year later, Republicans won landslide elections up and down the ballot across the country.
Boehner had to go, simply because he couldn’t make sense of those two facts. How the Republicans in Congress now respond will tell voters how many of them need to go as well.