The Phony House Revolt Against Boehner

Republican radicals aren't really angry at the House speaker. They just have to pretend they are.

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Today's big story is the supposed “revolt” against John Boehner by a handful of House Republican radicals. Aaron Blake at The Fix has a vote count, but don’t be fooled: This isn’t really a revolt against the House speaker. 

It's just a way for the radicals to differentiate themselves from mainstream conservatives (or, in their language, for Real Conservatives to separate themselves from squishes and RINOs -- Republicans in Name Only). It’s also a way for some to signal they haven’t “gone Washington.” There may be a few more votes against Boehner now than there were two years ago, but that’s only because, with a larger Republican majority, he can afford to lose more votes -- not because he’s any less popular within his conference.

A real uprising against the speaker would have happened back in November, when House Republicans met and instead endorsed him for another term. Had conservatives been unhappy with Republican leadership, they could have rounded up the votes and made it clear that Boehner was finished. They could even have proposed a plausible replacement. But they didn’t have the votes or an alternative then, and they won’t have them now.

Yes, Louie Gohmert of Texas has proposed himself as a new speaker, but the last thing any of the radicals want right now is Boehner’s job – which entails, more than anything else, cutting deals with Barack Obama on must-pass items such as the debt limit and next year’s appropriations. House Republicans aren't really unhappy with how Boehner has handled those negotiations; that's why they supported another term for him. This "revolt" is nothing more than a tantrum against the inescapable fact of compromise.

If Republicans hold both chambers of Congress in 2016 and win the presidency, then Boehner may finally be in trouble, because then Republicans will be faced with real choices: Should they mainly try to pass their most popular items, or concentrate on the most conservative legislation? 1

As long as the Kenyan socialist (or any other Democrat) is in the White House, however, Boehner is perfectly safe.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.
  1. Of course, sometimes conservative bills will be popular, so they won't have to choose. But parties with effective majorities have to make such choices all the time. During periods of divided government it doesn't matter since they can't enact their ideological preferences.

To contact the author on this story:
Jonathan Bernstein at

To contact the editor on this story:
Katy Roberts at

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