Six years ago, John Boehner became the Speaker of the House, largely due to the growing popularity and influence of an emerging political faction that would become known as the Tea Party. Just over a week ago, that same faction caused his downfall.
Boehner’s rise and fall in the GOP leadership was largely guided by a transformation of the Republican Party itself. As Speaker of the House, Boehner’s responsibility was not only to represent the values and positions of the Republicans within the House and nationwide, but also to provide some sort of united front for a party that was anything but united.
Now, I like to consider myself an optimist, and I’d like to say that there is in fact a bright side to Boehner’s stepping down. However, it is difficult to find a single one. For liberals and moderate Republicans, Boehner was essentially the last and dismal hope for a productive Congress that could pass some concrete legislation despite operating in the most polarized political climate ever. Our nation’s political future is incredibly uncertain, and we should all be fearful.
As elected representatives seemed to move further and further away from the middle, Boehner attempted to work towards compromise and down-the-middle solutions, joining hands with Democrats across the aisle. However, the Republican Party itself did not want this approach, as evidenced by the ever-looming threat of a government shutdown (which was actualized for a period of two weeks in October of 2013 over Obamacare), a threat which has now re-surfaced. It appears, however, that Boehner’s willingness to make concessions is exactly what has driven him out of office.
Given the circumstances of Boehner’s departure, it is truly anyone’s guess just who will be able to succeed as a future Speaker. For example, it was expected that Kevin McCarthy would be the heir to the throne, until he abruptly dropped out on Thursday afternoon. It appears that the cause of his dropping out were the comments he made during a segment on Fox News, in which McCarthy said, “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee, what are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping, why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened.”¹
His statement is extremely problematic for the Republican Party, especially anyone who is associated with the committee, as it appears that these elected representatives who were supposedly investigating the scandal in the name of justice were actually prioritizing mudslinging and their political agenda over governing. This confession indicates that instead of spending time crafting actual legislation or solving difficult problems, our elected officials chose to waste their efforts on petty political attacks.
McCarthy is thought to have dropped out due to his notion that he wouldn’t receive the number of votes needed. It is now being debated whether his lack of support stems from his media gaffe, or from partisan extremism. McCarthy is known to have backed up Boehner during several controversial battles in the House where Boehner attempted to reach across the aisle, including his most recent attempt to avoid the potential government shutdown by voting not to defund Planned Parenthood. While McCarthy is thought to be more conservative than Boehner, perhaps he just wasn’t right wing enough. This should be a scary notion to both conservatives and liberals alike.
What is most frightening about Boehner’s stepping down is that his defeat is a larger defeat for our electorate. A recurring fight about Obamacare is what pushed us to the brink of a shutdown two years ago, and now, the fight to defund Planned Parenthood has done the same. Controversial issues arise. They will continue to do so for the rest of time. The solution is not to defund the government and quite literally shut down until legislators can get their act together to try in a last ditch effort to salvage some sort of agreement. We must await these disagreements, and when they come our way, we must approach them head-on, finding an solution efficiently and productively. Amidst the debate over who should succeed Boehner, conservatives are threatening to withhold support from any candidate willing to cede on the defunding of Planned Parenthood, making a government shutdown potentially inevitable. Essentially, any potential Speaker who may be amenable to compromise will simply not have the support to lead the party; it appears that our gridlocked Congress is about to get even more gridlocked.
There is no reason to believe that a more conservative or less conservative Speaker would be able to utilize their position more productively; too conservative and they isolate the Democrats in the House, and too moderate, and they alienate the extreme conservatives. The future of the GOP is extremely uncertain; over ten presidential candidates crowd the primary, and with Donald Trump leading the polls, it is truly questionable just what conservative voters desire (no offense intended to any Trump supporters out there). Since the GOP has a decisive majority in both the House and Senate, at least for the near future, the direction the party takes largely determines the course of American politics and the legislative landscape. The chaos that has been created given this void of political power will likely remain unresolved even if the party can get their act together for long enough to vote for a new Speaker, but in the meantime, it’s probably wise to start preparing for another government shutdown.
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