Ousting Boehner Won't Solve the GOP's Real Problem
The end of each Washington crisis marks the beginning of a new crisis for the House leadership.
Congress finally passed funding for the Department of Homeland Security. Crisis averted.
But to do so, House Speaker John Boehner had to surrender in the fight against President Barack Obama's executive amnesty and pass a bill supported by the Democrats and just seventy-five Republicans. So much for the Hastert rule. A new leadership crisis begins.
I'll believe rumors that Boehner's speakership is in danger only when I see proof. "That's not gonna happen," said House Freedom Caucus chairman Jim Jordan when asked about a Boehner coup. "That's not the issue."
Jordan, a fellow Ohio Republican, would be an important piece of a successful revolt against the speaker and a possible successor.
Another possible Boehner replacement is Paul Ryan. But the former 2012 vice-presidential nominee is a Boehner loyalist. Ryan is also now the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, a post that interests him far more. And on the substance of immigration policy, as opposed to the process questions surrounding Obama's amnesty, it's not clear Ryan is a better fit for conservatives.
You can't beat someone with no one. With no rival candidate and no real leadership or organization, it will be hard for an anti-Boehner rebellion to get off the ground, as we've seen during each recent election for speaker.
The real question is whether Boehner leads the House GOP caucus in any meaningful sense, despite holding the speaker's gavel. He couldn't unite his party around a strategy to defund the Obama amnesty. And he couldn't get DHS funded without relying on Democrats and a minority of his own party.
In fact, it's clear that on issues ranging from immigration to Obamacare to the debt ceiling, Boehner has little direct power to shape the party's strategy. He essentially reacts to whatever outside groups and non-House members like Ted Cruz do until he can convince a critical mass of Republicans that it is time to walk away from confrontation with the White House.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell made clear early on how far he was willing to go in blocking amnesty if it required withholding DHS funds. (The answer was not very far.) Boehner hinted he was willing to go further, watched things fall apart, then promptly blinked.
There is a group of committed conservatives in the House over which Boehner exercises minimal control and who have foiled him repeatedly. Then there is a rump faction of the party, sometimes numbering as few as twenty-eight members, that he sometimes must use to govern.
Credit where it's due: Aside from the 2013 government shutdown, Boehner has usually been able to keep the House from plunging into the abyss. He has avoided defaulting, the fiscal cliff, a long-term DHS funding problem and the expiration of middle-class tax cuts.
What Boehner has had less success in doing is achieving policy results that satisfy conservatives or project a level of competence that convinces swing voters Republicans can run the country.
Not all of this is Boehner's fault. Conservatives still feel burned by how little they have to show for their unified control of the federal government for a brief moment during the George W. Bush administration. They have consequently become more demanding, even when they've been limited to a Republican majority in the House, giving them less leverage.
But already Republicans are struggling to demonstrate they can do more for conservatives with two houses of Congress than they did with one. For decades now, Republicans have insisted that in exchange for patience now, the next election win will lead conservatives to the promised land.
All conservatives have to do is elect a Republican House. Then a Republican Senate. Then a filibuster-proof Republican Senate majority. Then veto-proof Republican majorities in both houses. Then a Republican president. Then re-elect the Republican president. Then take over the Supreme Court.
The goalposts keep moving, and conservatives' patience keeps wearing thinner.
Boehner may not be responsible for much of this history, but he does seem to be the Republican leader least equipped to deal with it. Except compared to anyone willing to wrest the speaker's chair away from him.
So the Republican-controlled House lurches from one crisis to another, with the leadership crisis never solved.
W. James Antle III is managing editor of the Daily Caller and author of the book Devouring Freedom: Can Big Government Ever Be Stopped? He tweets at @jimantle.
Image: Flickr/ SpeakerBoehner