The sudden resignation of John Boehner as Speaker of the House of Representatives has thrown the political situation within the Republican party, already roiled by the tumultuous primary race, into a deeper state of uncertainty and I predict that it will make a bad situation even worse in the long run (long in this sense being a few months), though it may be able to ease the immediate situation.
But change can bring a sense of hope, especially when the situation before the change occurred was grim. Some observers see Boehner’s exit as portending well for the future. He had been having a contention relationship with the 30-40 members of his own party who formed the so-called Freedom Caucus (the hyper-patriotic name itself suggesting that these people are crazies) over how to deal with president Obama and the Democrats in Congress, and hope has been expressed that a new Speaker might be able to smooth things over.
This is a pipe dream. The basic problem is that there was nothing in terms of policy that Boehner disagreed with from the Freedom Caucus. It was almost entirely based on tactics. The only difference was on whether the party should adopt a scorched Earth policy and completely gum up the workings of the government over issues such as defunding Planned Parenthood, stopping the Iran deal, raising the debt ceiling, cutting the federal budget even more, repealing Obamacare, and a whole host of other issues, even to the extent of shutting down the government. In fact, their goal is to pretty much eliminate government altogether so shutting it down temporarily was seen as actually a good thing, not just a necessary evil. Boehner, on the other hand, seemed to think that a basic responsibility of being in elected office was to keep the wheels of government turning even while seeking change. Hostage taking seemed distasteful to him.
The immediate issue was the need for a funding bill when the current authorization ends on September 30th. The Freedom Caucus wanted to eliminate all funding for PP from that bill, something that would not pass the Senate and even if it did would be vetoed by the president, thus shutting down the government. The Freedom Caucus threatened a revolt against Boehner if he did not include the defunding and Boehner seems to have made a deal with them that by saying he would resign on October 30, they would not oppose a so-called ‘clean’ spending bill to pass next week, because if the entire Freedom Caucus voted against it, it would need some Democrats to pass it since it would need at least 218 voting in favor and the current party split is 246-188. Having to depend upon Democrats to pass a Republican bill was seen as politically undesirable.
But it is expected that the spending bill will only fund the government through December because that is the new normalcy, lurching from one short-term fix to the next, so we will have another shutdown threat in December. The only difference will be a new Speaker who will be in the same boat as Boehner, forced to choose between governing and capitulating to the Freedom Caucus. Boehner will probably be enjoying the sight from the sidelines as he contemplates calmly raking in millions of dollars as a lobbyist.
Boehner’s allies are lashing out at the Freedom Caucus for putting the party through this wringer and threatening to institute new rules that would prevent what they see as an ultra-minority from dictating terms. Party establishment politicians such as Lindsey Graham, Chris Christie, and Peter King are lamenting Boehner’s departure and warning that this kind of ultimatum politics is going to hurt the party.
While the party ‘extremists’ (remember that label only applies to their tactics since everyone pretty much agrees on ideology) are gleeful over Boehner’s ouster and now are setting their sights on their other perceived enemy, Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell. John McCain tries to play the peacemaker role.
“Let’s stop fighting with each other,” the former presidential candidate and now symbol of mainstream Republicanism said during a visit to a conservative gathering Friday. “Let’s sit down together and work out our differences with a common agenda to elect the next president of the United States, keep our majorities in the House and Senate, and put the brakes on this internecine strife.”
But if I were the party establishment, I would pin the blame for this turmoil right on McCain. It was his choice of Sarah Palin as running mate in 2008 that set the stage for this development. She gave the crazies a loud voice right at the top level of the party and fired them up and continues to do so. They have not looked back since, especially since so many of them were elected to Congress in the Republican wave of 2010.
These new extremist house members were feted as some kind of revolutionaries, nurtured by a younger but still establishment leadership that gave itself the grandiose nickname of The Young Guns, and hailed in the conservative media as what the country needed to make it great again and it has clearly gone to their heads and given them delusions of grandeur. They remind me of nothing so much as the children of indulgent parents who are told from infancy that they are brilliant and destined for greatness. Such people become thoroughly spoiled brats. (Oddly enough, one of them is actually called David Brat, and he defeated one of the Young Guns Eric Cantor in the 2014 primary.) These congresspersons have now entered adolescence where their sense of entitlement is strong and they throw a tantrum if they don’t get their way every time, to the horror of their frazzled parents who wonder where they went wrong.
Boehner’s resignation changes nothing in this dynamic. It just places a new person in the hot seat and that person is likely to be another Young Gun Kevin McCarthy, since the third of the Young Guns Paul Ryan has said he is not interested in the post and seems to want to keep a low profile. If that person believes in basic governance, as seems likely since the Freedom Caucus says they are not going to nominate someone from their own ranks to run for speaker, then this drama will play out again in December, where the Christmas season will complicate matters even more when the War on Christmas can be added to the list of grievances that pander to the extremists among the party faithful.
The Freedom Caucus has tasted blood. The crazies have bagged one victim in Boehner. They will be even more emboldened now and can continue to have visibility without responsibility, And those running for the party’s presidential nomination are well aware that if they run afoul of these crazies, they will be loudly hounded for doing so.
This is no way to run a country.