Jacob Heilbrunn

The Loneliness of John Boehner

Where does House speaker John Boehner go from here? It's time for him to resign his leadership post. Boehner staked his influence, his reputation—in short, his street cred—on the so-called "Plan B," which was supposed to shield everyone earning less than $1 million a year from a tax hike starting in 2013. It would have been a sensible stance for Republicans to adopt if they were interested in strengthening their bargaining position against President Obama, who came in at $400,000 a week ago. Instead, House Republicans revolted against their own leader and Boehner pulled the plan, which turned out to be no plan at all.

So what is the GOP planning next? Obama now holds almost all the cards. He has the Inaugural address coming up. He has the State of the Union coming up. And he has sweeping tax hikes coming up. The stock market is almost sure to plunge and Republican instransigence will be singled out as the culprit. Boehner exposed his own inability to lead when he essentially dumped the fiscal cliff problem on Obama and Senate majority leader Harry Reid's collective laps. But the blame for the fiasco should not really be laid at Boehner's doorstep. He is a victim of his own party. The Washington Post reports that Republican freshman Mike Kelly yelled into a microphone at an emergency meeting in a basement room at the Capitol, "Really, we can't support our speaker?" Apparently not. Republican consultant Craig Shirley told the Post that "The national GOP is now simply a collection of warring tribal factions."

This interpretation fits in well with Ronald Brownstein's observation that the Democrats are becoming increasingly unified, while the Republicans succumb to infighting:

The endgame over the fiscal cliff, like the first stirrings of debate about gun control and immigration, all capture a subtle but potentially consequential shift in the Washington dynamic.

On each front, Democrats are growing more unified while Republicans and conservatives are displaying increasing cracks. That inverts the alignment through most of President Obama’s first term--and indeed most of the past quarter-century.

Obama's adversaries, in other words, are making it easy for him. As he prepares for the inaugural and State of the Union, the civil war among Republicans is making the case for him that he is the only leader left in the capital of the free world. Meanwhile, the economy may well tank as Washington bickers and feuds. It is not a very nice national Christmas present. Let's hope the New Year gets off to a more congenial start.


Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore