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December 12, 2013 3:22 PM Nobody Here But Us Conservatives

By Ed Kilgore

Speaker John Boehner’s serial criticisms (yesterday in an NBC interview, today in a press conference) of conservative “outside groups” and their harassment of his own self and of House Republicans who do his bidding is getting massive media attention at the moment. Any minute now someone in the MSM is going to go over the brink and toast the Ohioan as the bravest man in American politics, a veritable colossus of strength and wisdom.

That’s all well and good; best I can tell Boehner got through both outbursts without weeping, and it is nice to see him not crawling on his belly like a reptile when it comes to Heritage Action and other right-wing bully boys. You kinda get the feeling, moreover, that Boehner was behind the firing of Republican Study Committee staff director Paul Teller, which has people in the “outside” groups and the allied blogospheric precincts freaking out.

But the Teller brouhaha is a reminder that this whole “war” between Boehner and “the groups” is pretty much inside baseball, and about Boehner’s role as Republican tactician rather than any deep matter of ideology or principle. And anyone who wants to lionize Boehner as some sort of “moderate” or even “pragmatist” free of ideological fervor should heed his own words in today’s press conference:

Asked if he was officially saying “no” to the tea party, Boehner emphasized the deficit reduction achieved under the budget deal and said there was no reason to oppose it.
“I came here to cut the size of government,” he said. “That’s exactly what this bill does, and why conservatives wouldn’t vote for this or criticize the bill is beyond any recognition I could come up with.”
Boehner also defended his own commitment to conservative principles, which has repeatedly come under fire. This criticism has at times threatened his speakership when he has attempted to negotiate with President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.
“I say what I mean and I mean what I say,” he said. “I’m as conservative as anybody around this place.”

Can you imagine Harry Reid, who occasionally gets criticized by the left, saying “I’m as liberal as anybody around this place”? No, you can’t.

So even this “act of war” between Boehner and “the groups” needs to be understood for what it is: an argument over strategy and tactics and operational control rather than goals and ideology. So progressives shouldn’t go too far in celebrating another battle in what I think is a phony “civil war,” or in exaggerating its effects.

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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