Friday, July 29, 2011

Reports of Boehner's Death Greatly Exaggerated

I have a new column up at TNR arguing that Eric Cantor would be nuts to support a coup right now against John Boehner. Basically, it's the wrong time for anyone who has any interest in being a long-term Speaker, because right now whoever is Speaker will have the same problems that Boehner has right now.

But you know what? Part of the problem right now appears to be that sensible Republicans have massively overlearned the lessons of 2010 -- in particular, the cases of the handful of Republican Senators who were denied renomination. Sensible Republicans -- and I'm convinced that at least half, and perhaps well over half, of the House Republican conference fits into that category -- know very well that the line pushed by the Michele Bachmanns of the world is all a bunch of nonsense, and quite unpopular with the general public anyway. Sensible Republicans, no matter how conservative, realize that the current political context requires that they will eventually have to compromise with Barack Obama (and the Senate) over the budget and, well, everything else.

They appear, however, to be convinced that they're all one false move away from being defeated in a primary -- or, in Boehner's case, from being deposed in an internal House coup. Guess what? It's not true! In 2010, the big Tea Party year, almost every Republican Member of the House was renominated, and most GOP Senators were, too. Moreover, the exceptions were all cases that won't apply to most Republicans in Congress. Bob Bennett was defeated in a caucus/convention system, not a primary. Arlen Specter (who was chased out of the party, but probably would have lost) and Lisa Murkowski were both at risk mainly because of abortion.

And as I didn't quite say in the TNR piece, I wouldn't bet against John Boehner at least making it through this Congress, and perhaps a lot longer.

To be sure: paranoia about re-nomination is only to be expected; traditionally, Members of Congress have acted paranoid about re-election, no matter how many of them actually did get sent back every two (or six) years. Unfortunately, while obsessive and massively overstated concern about re-election has all sorts of benefits in a democracy, obsessive and massively overstated concern about re-nomination is much more of a mixed bag.


  1. The TNR column notes that Boehner could lose his speakership if he cuts a deal with the Democrats. But on the other hand, if he lets the Tea Partiers crash the economy, the GOP runs a serious risk of losing the House in 2012, and Boehner would be out as speaker anyway.

    No matter what happens, Boehner's speakership is tenuous one way or the other. If I were in that position, I'd at least try to do the responsible thing and just keep my fingers crossed.

  2. You forget the classic aphorism: there are two kinds of Members of Congress--paranoids and losers. Given the very low rates of partisan turnover of most seats, they're right to be more worried about primaries than generals.
    As for Boehner, yeah, you're right, the Republicans would NEVER get rid of a sitting Speaker of the House because he wasn't conservative enough. Oh, well, except for the last time they deposed a Speaker. But that was 12 years ago.
    But as a general rule, they don't toss our their leaders. Well, except Trent Lott. Yep. It's just Newt Gingrich and Trent Lott. Well, Bob Livingston's tenure as Speaker was kinda short. But, with the exceptions of Trent Lott, Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston, the GOP never eats their own for ideological or other reasons. Well, Joe Cannon.

    But apart from Trent Lott, Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, Joe Cannon, sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?

    Sorry about the snark, but the Life of Brian bit came to my head, and I had to run with it. I was also considering listing our chief weapons, but you get the point: the GOP model of leadership is tyranny tempered by assassination.

  3. Following Matt Jarvis' observation in the previous thread that the primary system is around a century old, I am reasonably confident that the Tea Party primary threat, for organization and laser-like intensity, is wholly without precedent at least in the past 30 years or so. Given that such things would have been harder to coordinate in the prior 70, it seems likely that the Tea Party primary threat is a real, new menace, not merely the same old misguided paranoia.

    Second, while issues like paranoia are never on/off propositions (i.e. a caucus member never either "is" or "isn't" paranoid), it doesn't take many to feel real fear to derail Boehner. If as many as a mere 25 Republicans are facing written-in-stone primary challenge threats, Boehner no longer has a majority (if he brings along no Democrats). If bringing along Democrats brings problems of its own, especially in this pre-Senate phase of the mess, it doesn't take many terrified Republicans to completely screw up the whole system.

    Even if paranoia has never been justified before, my gut reaction is that there are certainly 25 Republican House Members facing sure primary Tea Party revolutions if unorthodox on spending. Does anyone really disagree?

    Finally, my subjective read of the situation seems to support the Tea Party primary fear. It sounds like the Republican caucus is trying to whip the holdouts into alignment, including pushing on a naked oldster from Michigan this morning in the House gym locker, per HuffPo.

    What's interesting is that holdout's response to the arm-twisting: he was still thinking about it. Thinking about it??? Dude, when the asteroid is hurtling toward earth and visible with the naked eye, you don't fricking think about it!!!!.

    I suppose in this audience you would find those that feel that such cavalier response is an indication of Republicans' inherent soulless evil, and perhaps this is so, but it strikes me that a much better explanation is that the naked guy cannot describe the real reason for his foot dragging, namely, that there's a passionate Tea Party zealot/HVAC business owner in his district who has raised quite a stink. You can't say that sort of thing to the whip.

    But you'd probably act on it, assuming it was true.

    Not saying that I'd bet a large amount of money on the preceding, but as explanations go, it does beat most of the others I've read (unless your disposition simply runs to - Republicans are nothing more than assholes who hate the country. Maybe).

  4. So the good news is that Boehner passed a bill. The bad news is that the TeePees dragged it so far right that it's barely distinguishable from their "Chuck, Duck and Dodge" effort of a couple weeks ago.

    Bad news for John of Orange, as it confirms that the tail is still wagging the dog.

    Dead on Arrival in the Senate, though I suppose passing *something gives McConnell leverage in the negotiations - if he goes full filibuster and can hold enough of his caucus, the public won't understand why the Senate couldn't pass their own bill.

    I suspect Wall Street leaders will get a much better hearing from the Senate. But McConnell can't be totally blind to what this pie fight has done to Obama's approval numbers, I'm sure he'd love another bite at the apple next year.

  5. And why is Obama so insistent on any solution to this situation being a "bipartisan" solution? In mean, in one sense it has to be--it needs sufficient Republican support in the Senate to get to 60 votes (I really do miss the days when a majority was sufficient to act) and probably needs Democratic support in the House to get around the crazies.

    But it sounds like he means something more than that, as if he wants large majorities in both Houses. That'd be nice, but it's also impossible. And "bipartisan" is more about process than about content, anyway. Does he mean he'd sign a truly awful bill with "bipartisan" support? I'd much rather that, from the beginning, he'd said what *content* he wanted. (But he almost never has, about anything.)

    I'd be happier if he'd managed his end of the process better, but it's too late for that.

  6. Doc: I'm treating that language as complete fluff. By definition, anything that passes will be bipartisan: a Republican House, Democratic Senate and Democratic president will have signed it. So, when Obama says he wants something bipartisan, I just assume it's fluff for the idiot media and folks who lap that up.

  7. I think the 2010 primary casualty that's most on the mind of GOP House members is Bob Inglis of South Carolina, who was defeated in a primary for supporting TARP and disrespecting Glenn Beck: Not likely to happen to more than a couple of members in 2012, but pols tend to be pretty paranoid.

  8. Finally getting to this, if anyone is still reading this thread...


    I agree that Inglis is probably much on their mind.


    Yeah, the GOP has a long history of knocking off their House leaders. And I think it could happen to Boehner -- but I think that Cantor and the rest of the leadership should oppose it, at least until the end of this Congress. After that, harder to tell.


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