The Grand Old Pile-On

It’s not that Boehner doesn’t have allies among the old guard, though, and some are coming to his rescue. John McCain has called for a return to business as usual and for the unruly freshmen to line up behind their speaker. He went so far as to call out the Tea Party by name, calling their demands for a balanced budget amendment “foolish.” He spiced up his statements with a few more choice adjectives, including “bizarre,” pouring additional salt into the wounds.

Not everyone’s “help” may wind up being welcome. When you see the Wall Street Journal telling the “Tea Party Hobbits” to “go back to Middle Earth,” some of the wheels may be coming off the wagon.

Boehner’s opponents from the other side of the aisle -- as well as their supporters -- have been quick to take notice. Some of the usual suspects are absolutely gloating at what they perceive as a conservative implosion. I noticed one Democratic wag on Twitter this week chortling that the “draconian” cuts to entitlement programs might be “almost worth it just to watch the pubbies eat their own livers.”

So is there a Republican schism in process? The short answer, I’m afraid, would have to be yes, but it’s neither as deep nor as institutional as liberal critics might hope. It’s not as if one entire arm of the GOP has suddenly surrendered to their inner RINOs and become lovers of big spending and high taxes. (Though when you have loyalists breaking out the “R word” on Allen West, even in a joking fashion, you do have to wonder.)

In reality, though, what we’re seeing is a battle over style and approach rather than substance or policy. The old timers in the House have had a long time to learn to deal with the art of the possible, while the hot-blooded freshmen still seem to be embracing a take-no-prisoners mentality. What I see as the biggest difference is that the senior establishment-types have remembered that they still lack control of the upper chamber and the White House. Some of the newer folks are approaching reform as if they’ve already elected sixty Republican senators and a new president.

Hopefully John Boehner will remember the one powerful tool at his disposal which is his own experience in Congress. He’s trying to herd a very large group of belligerent bucks into the corral right now. But just two decades ago he was one of those young bucks himself. The speaker will do well to keep that in mind.