October 1, 2013
A Figurehead Speaker
By J. Robert Smith
Speaker John Boehner's goose is cooked. House conservatives' rebellion against Boehner's lame leadership has begun in earnest. How do we know this? Two names: "Cruz and Lee."
Remarkably, Senators Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are leading from the House side of Congress. That's right, House conservatives, in a gutsy move, are consulting with both senators, seeking their leadership while spurning Boehner's.
This course-changing development -- the beginning of the end of Boehner's speakership (and likely his congressional career) -- is underappreciated. Boehner can't possibly retain the speakership in January 2015 -- even if he wants it -- if roughly a third or more of his caucus refuses to support his nomination for another term.
As Robert Costa reported last week for National Review Online, under the headline, "Cruz to House Conservatives: Oppose Boehner:"
Leadership sources, for their part, are startled by Cruz's attempt to shape House strategy and work against the speaker. They knew he'd oppose Boehner's playbook, but they didn't expect him to huddle with conservatives and ask them to ignore it. So, Cruz's meetings have made him a key House player, but they've worsened his already-fraught relationship with the leadership.
Cruz and Lee have become de facto Republican House leaders because they're acting -- not just speaking -- in step with the grassroots.
Boehner will be ever more marginalized as conservative House members look toward the 2014 midterm elections -- elections where energizing grassroots conservative voters is critical to their reelection fortunes.Make no mistake, Republicans will lose the House if disgusted conservative voters sit home next year.
If the speaker attempts to take his moderates and build ad hoc coalitions with House Democrats to pass legislation unpalatable to conservatives (something his lieutenants have suggested in the past), he's likely to spark a crisis that leads to his ouster.
Boehner's accommodationist approach has gone wretchedly with grassroots conservatives, who see the speaker as part of the problem in Washington. Boehner began his House career as a reliable conservative, only to morph over the years into a quintessential establishment Republican, a hack more interested in making nice with Democrats and tidying-up the welfare state than pushing for seminal reforms.
Given the threat to liberty by an revanchist statist president, Barack Obama, and likewise, steely left-wing congressional Democrats, what grassroots conservatives have loudly shouted for since Mr. Obama's election are leaders who fight critical battles to win; who, in fact, seek an historic national shift. That means leaders who are battling to end the long progressive era with its many insults to liberty and all the damages done.
Ambitious? Damn straight. But what great historical turns -- for good or ill -- have occurred without men and women who set goals that seemed impossible to the blinkered and conventional of their day?
Had Boehner, Cantor, and McCarthy (and let's not forget the oft-quizzical Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell) been around in 1776 rather than Jefferson, Madison, Washington, and Adams, et al, the American Revolution would never have occurred. Oh, there may have been lip service paid to the need for "fundamental change" in the crown's tax policies and dispositions toward the colonies, but secession? No, no.
The mighty British Empire can't be defeated. We'll just have to negotiate and cut the best deals possible. It's our responsibility to make British governance work in the colonies, sayeth Toryish Boehner. But we'll get our propagandists to sell it as solid victories for the colonies -- while colonists keep taking it in the britches.
Today's conservative revolutionaries aren't fooled by Toryish Boehner's propaganda.
A key problem with Boehner and his lieutenants: they're men out of step with the times -- in part. Boehner acts all too often like its 1960 -- or thereabouts -- when liberalism was in full flower and, except for the audacious Bill Buckley and his cranky conservative intellectuals at National Review, unchallengeable.
The current problems and perils of leviathan government and emboldened leftism to the well being and liberty of the nation aren't appreciated by Boehner (at least publicly, and not in his actions).
The other key problem for the speaker and his cohorts is the sense that progressivism is inexorable, a phenomenon that will keep on rolling ad infinitum. Mr. Obama and the Democratic Party are merely resuming the left's long march. The mainstream media sides with the president and is a formidable -- if decisive -- shaper of public opinion. The popular culture's elite set trends and influence the public to the left's advantage. We can't hope to prevail against that array, Boehner surely reasons.
Boehner and establishment Republicans are intimidated. That's been a Republican ailment since FDR. Republicans have also suffered a progressive strain in their party since Teddy Roosevelt, furthered by Willkie, Dewey, Eisenhower, Nixon, Rockefeller, Ford, the Bushes, Dole, McCain, and Romney. In fairness, these men held some conservative beliefs, too. But their conservatism tended to the "fix and restrain it" sort. There was no revolution in any of them.
For House conservatives to bypass Boehner and his lieutenants in favor of Cruz and Lee is an extraordinary act of rebellion, plain and simple, not some passing protest or useless symbolic act so common to Washington. The consequences of the rebels' defiance are keenly appreciated by them. They've started a fight they must win.
The speaker's powers are considerable. Boehner can dole out favors or punish GOP members. He can assure that the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) helps in reelections or not. Boehner has the allegiance of many big donors and facile Washington PACs. The speaker influences committee assignments.
There are bigger implications to the burgeoning rebellion against the speaker. The struggle for control of the GOP will begin soon, too. The rebellion against Boehner is a precursor to the war-to-come in 2016, when the presidential nominating process settles the GOP's fate. 2014 is another critical battleground. Victories by conservative House candidates -- staked out to conservative positions -- means deposing Boehner (if he stands for reelection) and his lieutenants for bona fide conservative leaders.
A conservative dominated House beginning in 2015 could play a critical role in helping shape the party's fate in 2016.
As this is written, Boehner is pushing for a one-year delay in ObamaCare's individual mandate and nixing the medical devices tax that is part of ObamaCare's funding mechanisms. He's also wants the federal government funded through mid-December.
Whatever the merits of each element of the speaker's proposal, if they lack the overarching strategic aim of extinguishing ObamaCare then they're merely chaff in the wind.
This latest confrontation with Mr. Obama over spending, debts, and ObamaCare isn't likely to acquit the speaker. It's probably yet another in a series of pyrrhic victories that the speaker will announce when a deal is struck with the president and his Democrats.
If that take is correct, then the speaker will be pushed more rapidly toward the margins as 2014 approaches by House conservatives determined to win reelections with new mandates to fight for historic change.