The Happiest Man in Washington

No more crying.

Photographer: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images

How happy was John Boehner to be quitting his job? So happy that he couldn't resist singing a few bars of "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" on his way out. His relief, however, is proportional to the difficulty that will face his successor as speaker of the House.

The next speaker is unlikely to be any more sympathetic to the faction of anti-government Republicans that hastened Boehner's demise by angling to overthrow him. Whoever Boehner's replacement is, he has an unenviable task.

Speaker of the House

There is no indication that Boehner's sacrifice will purge the poisons. In all likelihood, the next speaker -- whether it is Boehner deputy Kevin McCarthy of California or another victim -- will face the same Hobson's choice Boehner did: appease the faction in his own party with no interest in compromise or governing, inviting brinkmanship and shutdown; or collaborate with the opposing party, inviting a coup.

Boehner did the best he could, even demonstrating that the party was was capable of governing when it had to. "When you are the speaker of the House, your No. 1 responsibility is to the institution," he said. To spare the institution, Boehner is sparing the House a contentious vote to remove him.

It's a noble thought, but it won't be much help to Boehner's successor. The turmoil in the House is the result of discord in the Republican Party. Boehner was unable to defeat the radicals who made his tenure so draining, and the radicals have proved unwilling to accept that a minority of one party does not dictate the agenda in a divided capital.

Meanwhile, mainstream conservatives in the House who had hoped to use their majority to put their stamp on viable legislation will continue to be frustrated. Even bipartisan initiatives such as a highway bill will be stuck.

This is the unhappy state of politics in Congress today, and there is no reason to expect a new world after Boehner. But perhaps a brief honeymoon will be allowed the next speaker, during which highway funding and other priorities can be fast-tracked before the Capitol is overrun with familiar demands to defund this or that. The hardest job in Washington is unlikely to get easier.

To contact the senior editor responsible for Bloomberg View’s editorials: David Shipley at davidshipley@bloomberg.net.