If you are going to prognosticate, pound your chest, and lament that John Boehner is resigning from Congress on October 30th, don’t blame conservatives.
The truth is that conservatives alone did not have the votes to end John Boehner’s tenure. Conservatives may not like it that I say this, but it is true. There were only twenty or so conservatives holding fast against Boehner, but their numbers did grow closer to thirty, which put Boehner in need of Democratic votes.
That said, Boehner was losing more than thirty votes in the end and whoever is the next Speaker should understand why.
Mathematically, there are only about 21 conservatives in the House of Representatives who are repeatedly anti-Boehner. That John Boehner cut bad deals with President Obama or that John Boehner negotiated with Mitch McConnnell or even that John Boehner wanted to fund Planned Parenthood really was not going to affect that.
What was affecting Boehner was an increasing unwillingness to give anyone a seat at the table he did not like. Conservatives knew they could not do business with Boehner, but it became increasingly obvious that no one else could do business with Boehner if they were not already in his club. He relied more and more on outside voices, which played to caricatures of an out of touch Speaker.
Months ago, I got wind of news that conservatives were whispering with House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. McCarthy, a number of them told me, was “transactional,” meaning they did not think McCarthy was a conservative, but he wanted to get business done and would give them a seat at the table. That set conservatives in motion to try to come up with the votes to block Boehner come January 2017.
However, everyone was thrown a curveball. After getting ousted from his sub-committee Chairmanship on orders by John Boehner, Congressman Mark Meadows filed a “motion to vacate the chair.” It is a unique motion in the House of Representatives that could force the Speaker’s ouster by majority vote. No one, including the conservatives, thought Boehner was in trouble.
But over the August recess, congressmen went home and were increasingly alarmed by voter anger. Likewise, Presidential candidates began calling Boehner out on the campaign trail to great applause. It was a sign that there was a problem. Boehner loyalists like Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) began openly talking about the end game for Boehner and that Boehner did not have the votes to survive a challenge.
When congress came back from recess, they were confronted by Planned Parenthood videos, news that Boehner’s chief healthcare staffer was the sister of the President of StemExpress, the group profiting from harvesting children’s organs, the Iran deal, and continuing resolution, and soon the debt ceiling. Boehner had no strategy to navigate the waters and immediately closed his door to conservatives.
He then alienated war hawks by his handling of the Iran deal and defense spending. He seemed to have no plan on the debt ceiling to ameliorate the conservatives of fiscal hawks. Yesterday, he dragged some conservative members into his office and they held firm, giving him no wiggle room on the continuing resolution.
Boehner lost the ability to bully conservatives because outside conservative groups started making those guys heroes and household names for standing up to Boehner. Conservatives built themselves infrastructure to fundraise for themselves when Boehner shut off K Street spigots.
And now Boehner had closed his doors not just to social conservatives, but fiscal conservatives and war hawks. All he had left were a small group of moderates and the assistance of the Democrats. He could not survive a motion to vacate the chair with that. He had to resign.
John Boehner is out not because of bad deals, but because of bad manners. He wanted to be Speaker of the House, but increasingly only acted as Speaker for those members of congress he liked. At first that included more Democrats than conservatives. But in the end, it included more Democrats than Republicans at all.
Had Boehner and his staff just treated his Republican congressman nicely, this would not have happened. That is what you must understand.
The biggest winner here is not Kevin McCarthy the Majority Leader and now probably the next Speaker, but Heritage Action for America. The outside activist group has shown it can help conservatives whether being marginalized by House Leadership and reassured men on the inside that there was a majority on the outside who supported them and could help them. Knowing that kept conservatives on the inside emboldened and able to keep moving forward without fear of retribution from leadership.