Boehner: Guys, I'm Totally A Conservative

Matt Vespa
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Posted: Jan 10, 2015 3:15 PM
Boehner: Guys, I'm Totally A Conservative

As Guy wrote earlier this week, Rep. John Boehner was elected to a third term as speaker of the House. The votes were tallied, he got a majority, and now it’s over. But that didn’t stop conservatives who are unimpressed with Boehner’s record as speaker from going into a fit of rage over the results.

Boehner is also upset over folks questioning his conservative bona fides (via WaPo):

"It does pain me to be described as spineless or a squish," Boehner said at his weekly news conference Thursday morning. "I tell you what pains me the most is when they describe me as the establishment. Now, I'm the most anti-establishment speaker we've ever had."

He continued: "Who was the guy who got rid of earmarks? Me. Who is the guy who believes in regular order? Me. Who believes in allowing more members to participate in the process from both sides of the aisle? Me."

Boehner chalked up conservative anger directed at him to general frustration voters are feeling with the economy, politicians and a perceived lack of action in Washington.

"This frustration that's out there -- they need to take it out on somebody," he said. "They take it out on the president, they take it out on me. It just comes with the territory."

So, how did this all go down?

By the time the quorum vote was called, there were 401 House members present for the speakership election. Boehner needed 201 votes to secure reelection. After the initial vote, he clinched more than 201, but a second round was called for those who weren’t present during the initial vote; people can stumble in late. In the end, 408 votes were cast; Boehner received a total of 216 votes. Rep. Trey Gowdy wasn’t present, but said he would have voted for Boehner.

While the attempt to unseat Boehner drew more votes this session than during the start of the 113th Congress, it still failed. Rep. Curt Clawson voted for Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky for speaker, which drew chuckles from the chamber. Now, it’s not against the rules to nominate someone who isn’t a House member–anyone can be speaker–but it showed that this little coup wasn’t serious.

NRO’s Jim Geraghty had the vote tally for the anti-Boehner side:

Daniel Webster 12, Louie Gohmert 3, Ted Yoho 2, Jim Jordan 2, Jim Cooper 1, Peter DeFazio 1, Jeff Duncan 1, Trey Gowdy 1, John Lewis 1, Kevin McCarthy 1, Rand Paul 1, Jeff Sessions 1, Colin Powell 1.

Ben Domenech of the Federalist also shared some interesting points about the failed coup:

Two thoughts on this messy clash: First, House conservatives, can you wake up to the fact that attempted coups don’t work as a publicity vehicle? Absent a major scandal, we’ve had precious few coups for held leadership spots historically in the Congress.

Instead, coups tend to blow up in the plotters’ faces. The few that are successful are targeted internal efforts which focus on lobbying the voters who actually matter in such an election – the other members of Congress – rather than lobbying the public or sending out mass appeals to people who won’t be in the room when the decision is made. If you want an example of how a coup can actually work, learn from history – see this excellent recounting from Donald Rumsfeld about how he helped Gerald Ford pull one off on Charlie Halleck.

That’s the way you do this. Anything else is a sideshow.

For the leadership side, the lesson strikes me as harder – few coaches get it, and few leaders these days, too. Republican leadership concedes that conservatives have energy, and many of the recently elected types have great ideas too – but the main gripe of leadership is that conservatives spend more time fighting Republicans than fighting Democrats, more time running down their own team than attacking the other. What’s the best way to handle Terrell Owens? Is it to send him home to do situps in his driveway to teach him a lesson? Or is it to get him the damn ball? Giving an irascible self-absorbed star player a timeout doesn’t teach him a lesson, it just makes things worse. A good coach figures out how to use that talent and get the most out of it, calls Randy Moss’s number a dozen times and wins.

Unity can’t be achieved by defenestration or by imposition. It’s achieved by recognizing what talents a faction has, and deploying those. Boehner’s win wasn’t a sign of his strength – had Paul Ryan or Jeb Hensarling wanted that job, it’s unlikely he would have it. They view themselves as team players, though, and didn’t jump in. The real failure of this leadership team is the belief that the Tea Party wingers are threats and rivals to be crushed rather than levers to be used. You may think they’re crazy, but properly harnessed and directed, they can actually help you win. The closing scene of Michael Clayton comes to mind, where George Clooney expresses his shock and regret that Tilda Swinton thinks he’s the guy to blow up in a car bomb. “I'm not the guy you kill. I'm the guy you buy! ... I'm your easiest problem and you're gonna kill me?” And that turns him into Shiva the God of Death.

At the same time, the group of conservatives gunning to boot Boehner was poorly organized, like last time. And they lacked the votes, like last time. Rep. Ted Yoho, one of the leaders who ran, has an American Conservative Union rating of 80, which is lower than Boehner’s lifetime rating of 86.99. Also, knowing that the start of the 113th Congress almost cost Boehner his post, he toured the country with his fellow House Republicans to fundraise for them. He raised millions and the support to avoid another attempt on his speakership (via Politico):

After his near-death experience at the start of the 113th Congress, when a group of hard-liners almost took him out in the speakership election following the “fiscal cliff” showdown, Boehner spent big chunks 2014 on the road, raising tens of millions of dollars for his rank-and-file members. With all those political chits in his pockets, plus a strong showing by House Republicans on Election Day, Boehner and his top aides were feeling good — but not overconfident — going into the speakership vote.

Yet, Politico also noted the bad weather and the funeral for former Democratic Gov. Mario Cuomo of New York, which drew lawmakers away from D.C., as playing a part in helping Boehner secure a majority of the House votes to keep his leadership position.

Even some of Boehner’s fiercest critics have moved on, like Indiana Rep. Marlin Stutzman, who said, “It’s done, it’s over. I’m working on policy.”

Then again, Reps. Nugent and Webster, who voted against Boehner, have lost their positions on the House Rules Committee, but they could rejoin. Nothing is official yet.

Nevertheless, now is the time to govern–and that goes for both sides.  Democrats, the liberal media--they just love this kind of drama.