John Boehner's Hapless Tea Party Opposition

Photograph by Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

(Updated to correct Steve Southerland.)

Every few days, some Businessweek editor suggests that I write a post about why John Boehner would possibly want the job of House Speaker, to which he was reelected on Thursday. I always decline, because I don’t have the foggiest idea why anyone would want the job. But I do know why he keeps it. He keeps it because the misfit band of Tea Partiers who tried, and failed, to dislodge him are utterly hapless. Not mildly or endearingly hapless like Betty White on Golden Girls, but Three Stooges hapless.

Let’s review the evidence. Right-wing conservatives are furious at Boehner for agreeing to a deal raising taxes. Never mind that taxes were going up anyway—Boehner betrayed the Tea Party credo that saying no will eventually bring everybody else around. (It actually won’t.). So they decided to make an example of him by denying him the speakership.

First step: Finding an alternative. As my editors would happily tell them, it’s a lousy job. Eric Cantor didn’t want it. Paul Ryan didn’t want it. But they decided not to let this detail slow them down.

Next step: Plotting. This one didn’t go too well either. On Wednesday night, an amused Republican staffer called me to report that Representatives Jim Jordan, Paul Gosar, Raul Labrador, and Steve Southerland were gathered at Bullfeathers, a Capitol Hill bar, openly plotting their coup. Not exactly the Roman Senate scheming to dispatch Caesar.

Final step: Pulling it off. Here’s where things went truly, hilariously awry. Any good coup depends on stealth. But on Thursday, an enterprising Politico photographer snapped Representative Tim Huelskamp sitting in open session reading from his iPad—not making this up—the entire roster of the plot against Boehner. Just so there was no mistaking that he was up to no good, the document was entitled “YOU WOULD BE FIRED IF THIS GOES OUT.” Not making that up either.

Worse still, half the roster on Huelskamp’s iPad lost their nerve and bailed out. In the end, only nine Republicans broke ranks. Three cast votes for Cantor (who was visibly disgusted), two for recently ousted Representative Allen West, and one for a former U.S. comptroller general. Several of the plotters even voted for each other. Boehner was reelected Speaker.

Republican Representative Trent Franks probably put it best when he described the coup as “a ridiculous miscalculation on the part of a sincere, but completely inept” group of colleagues. All in all, a tough loss. Presumably, the plotters have gained a newfound appreciation for Boehner’s skills and how difficult it is to wrangle votes.

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