Speaker of the House John Boehner may have taken a forgive and forget attitude toward conservative rebels who tried to unseat him, but that won’t strengthen his position in his own caucus, nor will it assuage the anger many conservative members feel with regard to Boehner’s performance in recent weeks.
One Boehner ally, recently retired Rep. Steve LaTourette, called conservatives “asinine” for trying to oust Boehner, and suggested the rebels should be thrown out of the Republican conference.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” LaTourette said. “They should kick them all out of the Republican conference … I don’t know what their objective is. If it was to deny the speakership to Boehner and hand it to Mrs. Pelosi, I don’t know how their cause would have been furthered. If it’s to force the vote to a second ballot to make some demands, well, who the hell do these people think they are? Twelve out of 233, and they’re making demands? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”
LaTourette said Boehner had resisted the urge to retaliate against members who undermined the legislative process, but he has grown frustrated with lawmakers who don’t appear to have much interest in legislating.
After conservatives defeated Boehner’s “Plan B” tax bill, the Speaker told members they were sending him into negotiations with the Senate and White House “naked.”
LaTourette also said Boehner felt “betrayed” when Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) voted against the final deal on tax rates. The threat of a bigger conservative rebellion prompted him to pull relief funding for Hurricane Sandy off the floor just after the tax vote.
“He had expended a lot of political capital to get the 85 votes [on the fiscal-cliff deal], and he felt a little betrayed that the other members of the elected leadership walked on him,” LaTourette told The Atlantic. “And the last piece was, as you saw during the Speaker election, this sort of insurrection was forming against him. There was a fear that if he put $60 billion, no matter how worthy, of unpaid-for emergency spending on the floor, the insurrection would become bigger than it was.”
Perhaps the most lasting damage done from the attempt to deny Boehner re-election is the appearance of weakness in Boehner’s position. Bottom line: the party leader does not have control of his party. John Podhoretz, writing in the New York Post, explains:
Then came talk that Boehner should be fired as speaker of the House when the time came to vote in the new speaker yesterday afternoon. Yet none of the insurgents was brave enough to stand against him; instead, a bunch of them cast nonsense votes for someone else or refused to vote at all.
In so doing, they came close to handing Boehner a humiliating and entirely destructive defeat — forcing a second ballot and leaving their own party leader critically injured. They seemed to crave disorder.
This is how people who are more comfortable on the margins than in the middle of things behave. This is cannibalism, not political combat. This is unreason, not reason. This is temper, not temperament.
This is anarchism, not conservatism.
Boehner could only convince 85 out of 241 Republicans to vote for the fiscal cliff deal. He couldn’t count on his caucus to vote in favor of an aid package for hurricane victims. True, it was a flawed bill with pork galore stuffed into its $60 billion worth of spending. But a practical, competent party leader would have been able to ram it through anyway in order to avoid the public relations disaster that followed.
His partner in the GOP leadership, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, voted against the fiscal cliff deal. How that will affect their relationship going forward is unknown, although Cantor was very careful not to make the vote a challenge to Boehner’s leadership. Cantor wisely chose not to challenge Boehner’s re-election, but he may be beginning to chafe under Boehner’s uncertain leadership. And with battles over the debt limit and more fiscal cliff votes ahead, cracks in the GOP leadership team will only help Obama and the Democrats.
Conservatives in the House are tolerating Boehner’s leadership at the moment. But the revolt can be reignited at any time if the speaker fails again in standing up to the Democrats on taxes, spending, and the debt limit. At bottom, his performance must improve, else he will be unable to carry the Republican conference with him, making his speakership nearly irrelevant.