The establishment wing of the Republican Party is having a full-blown panic attack.
Crisis. Chaos. Disaster.
Those are just a few of the words being over used to describe the House Republican Conference after embattled Speaker John Boehner suddenly quit and his hand-picked successor gave up his brief attempt at the gavel last week.
As the dust settles, GOP lawmakers supposedly look “divided and in disarray” according to NBC News, while the Politico says some are “just exasperated.”
Are things really that bad? No. The conference is cleaning house. But for a group that’s supposed to be full of businessmen, it’s surprising that many think the ouster of an ineffective leader, and then passing on his recommended replacement, wasn’t necessary. Had the speaker and his lieutenants been running a company, they’d have all been fired long ago.
That’s why all of this supposed tumult is music to the ears of many conservatives. Far from chaos, we see the shakeup as a promising sign that we may be getting closer to the type of legislative branch leadership we’ve asked for since giving Republicans control of Congress. We see a real opportunity to direct the flow of coming events not only with who we support as the next speaker, but by firmly telling them what they must deliver once in office.
And that’s what it’s about: policies, not personalities.
In the past few days we’ve heard that “recalcitrant” conservatives ran poor old Boehner off because the veteran lawmaker wasn’t conservative enough. Now, they say, our “nihilist club” has scared away all reasonable replacements because most potential candidates aren’t far enough to the right.
That’s a misreading of why conservatives ousted Boehner, and a typical misunderstanding of what we want from our leaders, especially how we think good ones are supposed to work the chessboard of politics.
Boehner didn’t lose support from conservatives because he failed some sort of ideological litmus test. He may have been plenty conservative, but that wasn’t the issue. Boehner lost our support, and then gained our ire, not just by losing fights with the White House, but by failing to fight at all.
Sometimes, as every novice chess player quickly learns, you have to sacrifice a piece to get into better position later. But if the White House issued a veto threat, Boehner, and his equally ineffective counterpart in the upper chamber, Senator Mitch McConnell, would instantly cave and send over whatever language could be signed into law.
“Congress is back in business,” Boehner and McConnell would say, while proudly rattling off the number of bills that were signed by the president during the last session. Boehner confused the ability to pass bills that Obama liked with the ability to pass bills that his members – and more importantly, their constituents – wanted. They’d fight like hell for bills the White House backed – a bill to fund a crony capitalist bank and a lopsided Pacific trade deal, for instance – then half-heartedly offer bills conservatives asked for, like preventing millions of tax dollars from funding Planned Parenthood, only to fold in the eleventh hour.
The establishment said we couldn’t get anything done until we won the House. So we gave it to them. Then they said the Senate was needed before anything could be passed. So we won that, too. Now we’re told that we need the White House before any of our conservative priorities can be achieved.
What a copout. President Ronald Reagan signed historic tax cuts when the House was overwhelmingly Democrat. Newt Gingrich passed welfare reform with a popular Democrat in the White House, as well.
It didn’t take control of both branches; it took leadership.
Conservatives have finally had enough. It’s pointless to sit atop the largest Republican majority in decades if you’re not going to fight and win. That’s the lesson the next speaker should take from all of this.
Our congressmen will soon send us all a message when they vote on the next speaker; whether they support more of the same, or a strategy built around fighting, and winning, for conservative principles.
The only real crisis would come if they fail by once again not choosing a fighter and a winner for speaker.
(First posted on AL.com)