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September 30, 2013 5:08 PM Is Boehner Actually Bullet-Proof?

By Ed Kilgore

My esteemed friend Jonathan Bernstein offers an unusually provocative hypothesis over at TAP about John Boehner and his job security. He argues the Orange Man can actually remain as Speaker pretty much as long as he wants. No, Bernstein doesn’t make the insider-y argument that shadowy Establishment Elites will keep Boehner in office even if he does something horrific like giving in to the need to keep the federal government operating or the United States solvent. It’s because nobody would want the job:

The incentives driving members of the Republican conference are all external to Congress; they’re found in Tea Party politics, the ways that the Republican-aligned press works, and other things that no speaker could do much to change. Since everyone—and especially any potential successor speaker—knows all of that, it’s unlikely that anyone would mount a coup against him. Any successor would rapidly find himself or herself with exactly the same problems plus one: There would be a new precedent established for what to do with the speaker when things go wrong—overthrow them.

Hmmm. So whereas multiple Tea Folk might want the honor and glory of purging Boehner for RINOism, no one credible would front a “coup” because they’d be in the same position or worse before long.

I’d like to believe Jonathan is right, because if that’s the actual situation, Boehner is in a position to set aside the Hastert Rule and his own alleged “strategy” and get through the fiscal crisis with House Democratic votes regardless of how much his backbenchers howl.

But I just don’t buy it. There are rich rewards in Republican politics that don’t involve being Speaker of the House. A coup leader might well want to spend the rest of his or her days earning rich speaking fees—or speaking on Fox News—as progenitor of the Great Revolt of 2013. Just look a what his role in the insane Defund Obamacare campaign has done for the public standing of Ted Cruz.

And you just can’t tell me no one would want to be Speaker for a month or year if a month or year was the only option—particularly if they are off the current leadership track or too far down in the hierarchy to aspire to such heights absent a mutiny.

Besides, the precedent of House GOP regicide was set long ago when Newt Gingrich openly conspired against Bob Michel, and then Tom DeLay openly conspired against Newt Gingrich (a conspiracy in which Boehner was himself a minor figure).

If Boehner’s actually bullet-proof, let’s see him show it by becoming reasonable sooner rather than later.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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