John Avlon: GOP’s Kamikaze Caucus Takes Out John Boehner
So what does the resignation of best House Speaker John Boehner — accused by conservative Republicans who have used the dirtiest word in their vocabulary to describe him (“moderate”) — mean in the long run? The Daily Beast’s John Avlon is one of the country’s most spot-on analysts in looking at developments from the standpoint of centrists, moderates and independent voters. So it’s worth looking at his piece in The Daily Beast in great detail, quoting chunks of it, with a few quick comments of my own.
His subheadline is fitting: “The House Speaker did everything he could to keep the Republican crash-and-burn crowd in check. But in the end, they wanted to torch Washington, not run it.”
Boehner, the consummate congressional dealmaker, faced another looming government shutdown. His abrupt decision to resign at the end of October is a sign that there are no more deals to be made with the conservative Kamikaze caucus.
The fundamentalist crew that Boehner-allied Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has called “lemmings with suicide vests” and “right-wing Marxists” has been preparing to take the country to the brink of shutdown and default again this fall over their demand to defund Planned Parenthood and refusal to raise the debt ceiling.
And they will be cheered on by a massive conservative political entertainment machine that makes big bucks by getting people whipped up and tuning in, watching or reading. Compromise and consensus are oh soooooooooooo 20th century to many of these folks. Additionally, it’s hard to get people to tune in, listen, or read unless it’s getting them angry and spoiling for a fight by triggering their fight or flight mechanism. There’s no huge plot to do this; it’s the way the system works. Just as the media in this country on autopilot has helped propel Donald Trump to the top by giving him virtually unlimited access to it and even allowing him to do the absolutely unthinkable in times past: PHONING IN an interview on a Sunday morning news program. Why? He means big ratings when he appears on a show. MORE:
Boehner is an old-school Main Street Midwestern Republican—he’s conservative, but not crazy. His insistence that governing is more important than grandstanding has made him a punching bag for presidential candidates playing to populists. Take the recent cattle call hosted by the conservative frat-boy scam that parades under the name Heritage Action. Candidate after candidate blamed Boehner for all the ills facing their party. One of the attendees, a man named Valentine Sanchez told The Daily Beast’s Patricia Murphy that he wanted Boehner out “the sooner the better. We need conservatives in there.”
In fact, Boehner’s been one of the steady voices of sanity in an unhinged time for the Republican Party. He’s been the adult in the room filled with red-faced tantrums and toddler-esque factional squabbles. And he’s been constrained from pursuing many of his true goals by trying to hold in check the Tea Partiers that got him elected Speaker in 2010 as they morphed into the Troll Party, more welcoming to ultra-right absolutists than to conservative reformers.
Boehner — a notably weak speaker who seemed to go along to get along until this morning — seemed more like a GOPer from the days of Howard Baker or Ronald Reagan. His view of patriotism and service, you could sense, went beyond his main party but he seemingly valued his job too much to put it on the line. Until today.
Not only that, his longtime friends have disappeared one by one. Veteran Reps. Tom Latham, Steve Latourette, and Buck McKeon have all retired in recent years, leaving more and more him alone on the throne.
Still, he’s given as good as he’s got, calling Ted Cruz as a “jackass” for cheerleading the last shutdown and slamming Heritage Action and other members of the conservative activist class, saying, “They’re using our members and they’re using the American people for their own goals…This is ridiculous.”
As a result, Boehner’s ambition to shepherd conservative immigration reform through the House fell apart. In the spring of 2014, he noted that the immigration “problem’s been around for at least the last 15 years. It’s been turned into a political football. I think it’s unfair…I think it’s time to deal with it.”
But that would involve compromise — RINO behavior, wouldn’t it?
This [immigration reform] pronouncement was swiftly declared a “Death Warrant for Conservatism,” by the Powerline blog, while Heritage Action’s Dan Holler told The Daily Beast’s Patricia Murphy that Boehner’s statement was “a full-throated embrace of amnesty.” This kind of overheated exaggeration is typical of the kind of opposition Boehner faced.
Boehner’s ambition was abandoned once his deputy, Republican Majority leader Eric Cantor was cannibalized in a primary, losing to an activist who joined in the anti-immigration reform chorus. In the closed-door meeting, Boehner referred to the upset, saying that he only intended to serve two terms as Speaker but the Cantor lost. “Life changes, plans change,” Boehner explained.
Avalon joins several perceptive analysts who now think the catalyst for Boehner’s resignation was Pope Francis’ speech to Congress — which was marked by Boehner crying in the background.
And so Boehner decided to jump before he was pushed, tired of the prospect of another self-defeating fight with the extremists in his own party. Maybe Boehner could’ve held on as Speaker—if he’d decided to depend on votes from Democrats to retain his seat. But while most of Boehner’s recent legislative successes required bipartisan coalitions, that degree of career-saving support was likely too much to ask from Nancy Pelosi & Co.
Now President Obama has witnessed the vanquishing of two conservative congressional leaders—Boehner and Cantor—who were deemed insufficiently radical by the conservative populists they first empowered.
So what does this mean?
Most likely, not anything good for those who believe that politics shouldn’t only be about demonization, and power plays, a domination game where people seemingly work out some of their owb private issues by name calling, and negatively defining those that disagree, and painting compromise as “caving” and consensus as trying to appeal to “lower information voters” — a label which usually means someone who doesn’t agree with them in advance on every issue, so they must lack the “information.” And, often these days, that information turns out to be fact-challenged.
Avalon notes that we could see some immediately consequences:
With the Republicans still reeling under the Capital dome, the impact of Boehner’s surprise decision and his successor is still unclear, but it does not bode well for hopes that the United States can avoid another stupidly self-inflicted shut-down. Names like House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Budget Committee Paul Ryan were quickly floated as Boehner replacements—and were just as quickly shot down for being insufficient in their fealty to crash-and-burn Kamikaze caucus.
Moments after the Speaker ended his announcement by reading the Prayer of St. Francis (“where there is hatred, let me sow love”) stunned Republican congressmen saw “the crazies already huddling in the hallway.”
They are huddling.
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