If it’s a new Congress, it means it is time for a biennial tradition — the suspense surrounding the reelection of John Boehner that never lives up to the hype. At the openings of Congress this year and in 2013, house “rebels” made their rounds talking to conservative media in the prior week, telling them that they had the votes to replace the speaker with a more conservative alternate. As was the case two years ago, this year’s effort failed to come close to accomplishing that, and those behind the effort, if they were capable of shame, would hang their heads and quietly exit the arena of vote counting and political leadership.
But they aren’t, and that’s how you end up with people who insist that a House speaker reelected with around 90 percent of his conference voting for him must be replaced to preserve “party unity” (Rep. Jim Bridenstine). Some of these same incapable-of-shame politicians insist that Boehner needs to lose his position as a consequence of his ineffectiveness as speaker, yet they complain when, as a result of their attempt at a coup, they lose their positions on committees and subcommittees. It’s almost as though these supposed “conservatives” never heard of the word “accountability” outside a talking points sheet, and don’t recognize it when it is applied to their lives.
That’s not to say that I think Boehner has done an excellent job as speaker. He most certainly has not. His affinity for the big business crowd aside, his biggest handicap has been his letting his conference lead him, rather than taking the lead himself. Unlike most people, who blame the right flank of the Republican Party for the government shutdown that almost cost the GOP any chance at taking over the Senate, I place the blame firmly on Speaker Boehner.
Ted Cruz couldn’t shut down the government on his own. Neither could the conservatives in the House of Representatives. But what they could do is make noise, and hope the speaker blinked. And blink he did.
That’s on him.
This time they did more of the same. They blitzed the conservative talk shows and news outlets, overhyping the backing they really enjoyed to do something so drastic. Like the shutdown, they didn’t have a well-thought-out strategy that planned for what they would do if they successfully pulled off the first step of their plan. All it amounted to was denying Boehner a majority on a first ballot, and seeing what might happen after that. In reality, the effort was counting on another competent Republican to step forward at that point, but nobody was ever going to step forward. Because nobody wants the job John Boehner has.
It’s really simple. The same 10 percent of the caucus and their backers in talk radio who have spent the last four years savaging Boehner will be savaging whoever would replace him. Because it never was about John Boehner.
Many of these people are measurably less conservative than Boehner; nine of the 21 congressmen who didn’t vote for the speaker have lifetime Heritage Action scores (a score used by the Heritage Foundation to measure how conservative a politician is) of 76 percent or lower. You have to ask yourself, what could be the reason they have to oppose Boehner in a public vote, when only one of that group voiced opposition to his reelection when the caucus met to decide on a speaker candidate back in November?
It isn’t about conservative principles, nor is it about standing athwart the liberalism of the House leadership team and yelling “Stop!” If it were, these members would not be exposed to the criticisms I alluded to earlier, or have engaged in their pursuit in the haphazard way that they did.
It’s about money, and it’s about relevance.
When these congressmen get to present themselves as the only things standing between leadership and “Boehnercare,” or as the ones who are preventing Boehner from realizing his dream of allowing the president’s amnesty plan to go through uncontested, they give themselves a relevance they do not deserve. If we keep giving them attention, we are part of the problem. Why should someone who is more conservative that Boehner (or Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, for that matter) step forward to serve in that role if they will be accused of being for Obamacare unless they wave a magic wand and make it disappear? It is a simple fact that unless President Obama caves in and decides to sign a repeal of his only legislative achievement, it isn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t matter how badly we want it to go, until Republicans win the presidency, it is a fact of life.
If the criticisms were more focused on his true shortcomings than these imaginary ones, there would be a chance to replace him with an alternative who is more to our liking. But so long as the shrill voices of the “look-at-me” caucus are the ones driving the debate, there is no hope for change.
We can all get behind the idea of a more conservative leadership team in the House. The problem here is, as is the problem with many of the outside so-called “tea party” groups, the people who claim to be working to solve the problem are just conning the grass roots and the base while only working to enrich themselves. There has been enough documentation about how these groups prey on the conservative and antiestablishment sensibilities of the base to raise money that would otherwise be raised by the national parties, and then use it to promote themselves, and to pay their consultant friends and spend next to nothing on actual candidates. The only way to effect real change is by calling out the charlatans and the hucksters and insisting that criticism of our own side be legitimate, and that both factions on our side — the moderates and the conservatives — play for the team, which is the GOP and its electoral base.
Otherwise we all lose, and the more conservative you (really) are, the more you end up losing.