There is a saying in military lore, that if you’re going to strike the king, you’d better kill him. Otherwise, probably best not to strike the king…
In the story of the almost comically failed, Internet fueled coup against U.S? House Speaker John Boehner this past week, we have a disgruntled insurgency, a hastily cobbled together coup attempt that according to Roll Call, at one point included as many as 25 members, and ultimately a spasm of failure that unfolded on live TV (I was sitting in for Alex Wagner on MSNBC during the early part of it) and which wound up being generally embarrassing for everyone involved, including Joh. Boehner.
The final spectacle included a dozen tea party Republicans, including two who had been bounced from their committees by Boehner for previous insubordination, voting for someone other than Boehner. Dave Weigel described it this way:
The early part of the alphabet turned out to be trouble. Rep. Paul Broun voted for Allen West—who lost his seat last year—to become speaker. John Bridenstine, a new member from Oklahoma who upset an incumbent in a 2012 primary, voted for Eric Cantor. When Cantor’s turn came, he said “John. Boehner.” with the tone of voice you’d use on a telemarketer who put you on hold for three hours.
But that didn’t stop the dissents. Rep. Louie Gohmert voted for West; Rep. Steve Pearce and Rep. Ted Yoho voted for Cantor; Rep. Tom Massie, elected with help from Ron Paul’s PAC, voted for Amash. Rep. Tim Huelskamp voted for former Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, and anti-war Rep. Walter Jones voted for former Comptroller General David Walker, though the name was so unfamiliar that the chair made him repeat it. Reps. Mick Mulvaney and Raul Labrador didn’t bother voting. For a few frantic moments it looked like defections would force a second ballot—something that has not happened for 90 years—but a few stragglers (Michele Bachmann included) showed up late to end the damn thing.
And the intrigue was further described by OTB’s Doug Mataconis, who put together various reports that indicated the #FireBoehner couplet began with a 23-year-old recent college grad and his girlfriend, their collective 11,000 Twitter followers, and a GOPer named Tom Landry of Louisiana, who lost his seat in the redistricting shuffle and blamed Boehner. Their push caught fire when people like Huelskamp and Amash joined in, seeking revenge against Boehner for their lost committee seats. In the end, the whole thing failed when more than half of the alleged plotters bailed, and Cantor in particular, refused to be “that guy” who’d step forward on a second ballot.
Why wouldn’t Cantor go for it? Most observers believe he’s eagerly eyeing Boehner’s spot. But even a shady character like Cantor can remember recent history, specifically: Boehner’s recent history:
When Republicans took control of the House in 1994, Boehner was elected as the House GOP Conference Chairman.
From 1995 to 1999, Boehner served in a top leadership spot as the Republican Conference Chairman, the fourth most powerful GOP position in the House.
In 1997, Boehner was affiliated with a coup against Gingrich. From Roll Call:
The worst days in the Gingrich-Boehner relationship came in 1997, when a band of frustrated conservatives eager for more rapid changes launched a coup to depose Gingrich, who had been weakened by a House reprimand over ethical issues. Boehner’s role in the failed uprising remains hotly disputed, but in the tumult that followed, Boehner lost his leadership position.
– Source: Speaker Bio, Roll Call
And even after Gingrich took himself out of the picture, by abdicating the speakership and quitting congress at the end of 1998, one outcome was clear: Boehner took a hit, too. He lost his House leadership position, and didn’t get it back until 2001, whe. George W. Bush was elected and Boehner appended himself to him, the way he had once done with Gingrich. Boehner remained strictly loyal to Bush throughout Bush’s eight years. He co-wrote No Child Left Behind wit Ted Kennedy and others, he supported the wars, the mega spending, the evisceration of the surplus – all of it. He wept on the House floor, begging his colleagues to pass the TARP bank bailout in 2008. And he was rewarded for his abject party loyalty with the speakership, just as surely as he had been punished for his disloyalty to Gingrich a decade earlier.
So what lesson do you suppose John Boehner will carry into the 113th Congress, for those members who mounted a failed coup against him? Let me quote the guy who lost to Rep. Ted Yoho for a Florida House seat in the last election: “Yoho voted for Cantor, who didn’t vote for himself, then went on CNN saying he wanted to send a message,” JR Gaillot told me on Friday. “You just punished yourself and punished your district. You want money to flow to your district, you want your bills to go to the floor, but you just stuck your neck out there and you’re a freshman.”
The 12 coup plotters may find Speaker Boehner less amenable to brining said bills to said floor. Consider that many on the Hill believe Boehner may have tabled the Sandy aid vote as payback against Cantor for voting no on the fiscal cliff deal and thereby embarrassing the speaker.
And with Huelskamp and Amash already in the doghouse, did the Landry 12 just put themselves on the outside of House policymaking at the behest of two members with no influence, one guy who isn’t even in the House anymore, and a couple of recent college grads?
If Boehner is smart, and so far he hasn’t shown much savvy in the running of the House, and is arguably the weakest speaker in modern history — he will use this moment to finally stand up to the insurgents. He should make it clear within the caucus that he sees the necessity of cutting deals with Nancy Pelosi, thereby permanently tabling the Hastert rule (whereby only bills having majority support among the majority will come to the floor – a rule broken with the fiscal cliff vote) as a strength, not a weakness. In other words, Boehner should inform the extremists in his caucus that he intends to be speaker of the entire House, and will run bills through by any means, with them or without them. That he and the Republican mainstream are in charge. People can decide to be with him, or with Amash, Heulskamp and the losers.
If he does that, this will prove to be a very costly failed coup indeed, for the members who tried it, and for their districts. At that point, it will be up to their constituents to decide, at election time, whether their revanchism was worth it.