This is the first installment of a series on the significance of Representative John Boehner’s resignation as Speaker of the House. The second installment of that piece can be found here.
Much has been said already regarding Representative John Boehner’s decision to resign as Speaker of the House amidst flagging support within his own party. His closest allies initially insisted that he was not “forced” out of office, but when that narrative failed to convince the media or the country as a whole, approbation for Boehner’s “selfless” decision quickly yielded to lambasting the Republicans responsible for upending their party’s leadership in the House. According to the Establishment’s narrative, such Republicans had broken ranks, had gotten out of line, and needed to be punished.
The smears, vitriol, lies, and lamentations that have escaped the lips of Establishment politicians and commentators since that time would likely induce confusion in outside observers as to whether the Establishment actually shared a party with those they were attacking. Borrowing from the Left, the Establishment declared that those opposing their long-unchallenged preeminence at the head of the Republican Party did not know how to govern, did not understand that compromise is a “necessary” part of politics, and only knew how to say “no.” These attacks have only increased in frequency and intensity upon the withdrawal of Boehner’s heir-apparent, Kevin McCarthy, from the Speaker’s race.
All the while, such attacks have only confirmed and reinforced what Republican voters began to realize with the rise of the Tea Party several years ago: that the party they have long supported does not support them and has not for some time. That demanding politicians be principled should be labeled as a “radical” stance in the twenty-first century speaks volumes as to how far the Republicans have fallen in recent decades. Far from the governing style of Calvin Coolidge, who believed “one of the most important accomplishments of [his] administration [was] minding [his] own business,” the contemporary Republican leadership has become addicted to action for action’s sake, has become a glutton for spending, and has falsely equated being “pro-business” with being “pro-capitalism,” doling out benefits to the Chamber of Commerce and designated allies (admirable or not) while consistently failing to abide by the average Republican voter’s desire to simply get out of the way. (For an example of such failure, examine the tax increase perpetuated by Georgia Republicans at the behest of the Chamber of Commerce to fund “infrastructure,” never considering more free-market alternatives.)
When in power, Republicans make little (if any) progress towards the ideals that they profess to hold and that their constituents hold dear. When out of power, they fail to adequately oppose the Democrats’ calls for socialism—now more open and obvious than ever before. Even as now, where the Republicans have the awesome power of Article I of the United States Constitution at their disposal—particularly, the power of the purse—the Establishment refuses to use it, choosing instead to structure the business of the legislature such that the power cannot be used. It repeatedly constructs crises so as to insist that the Establishment’s preferred option is the “only option” and punishes opposition by purging them from committees. Establishment Republicans have, in a very real sense, become political Tories: “conservatives” in the worst sense, preferring the status quo to any significant change, being obsessively averse to principle, and displaying a remarkable hypersensitivity to all criticism regardless of whether it is rational; apologists for a chief executive who holds individual rights and the constitutional structure of our government in utter contempt; and readier allies of their own destruction than of their constituents.
Boehner’s ouster is merely the natural end of such default by Republican leadership, and the old excuses have ceased to carry any weight. No longer can the Republican Tories’ calls for pragmatism be mistaken for merely shrewd politicking toward some greater goal. Rather, the essence of Republican pragmatism has been laid bare: victory through capitulation; progress through a steady backwards march; success through a feigned resistance to failure.
Though the Tories are attempting to frame the current leadership struggle in the House as a small handful of radicals holding the rest of the House hostage, the truth is that a cultural revolution is underway—the extent to which it affects the House will not be known until the dust settles. To be sure, the Tories’ opponents are far from a monolithic ideological group. They consist of a hodgepodge of various ideologies within the Republican Party, ranging from liberty-leaning individuals to full-throated supporters of the Religious Right (the Tories’ favorite “boogeyman” used to frighten support away from the more liberty-leaning faction to itself).
Caught in the middle is the “average” Republican, desirous of reducing the scope of the state but, lacking clear leadership, unsure of how to pursue it. To the extent that the Tories smear the rest, it is not likely out of concern that the Religious Right (dying with the generation that currently supports it) will take over the government. Rather, it is that their notion of “business as usual” will no longer go unquestioned, that their corrupt policymaking to benefit the Chamber of Commerce at the expense of individual rights will be placed under scrutiny, and that their dogma of moderation will cease to appease voters who look at other districts only to find legislators of principle, and who subsequently wonder why they themselves lack such a statesman. Rather, Tory angst is driven by being confronted with the thoroughly unpleasant notion that their hegemony is done. They no longer maintain control. They are a minority within the party they used to lead.
The Tories only have themselves to blame for the Revolution now calling for their proverbial heads. From failing to produce a principled message for the party while simultaneously using brute political force to silence anyone who disturbs their dogma of moderation, multiple factors invited, fostered, and developed the forces necessary to unseat them. Such factors cannot be exhaustively examined here, for they are numerous and longstanding, but a summary is warranted. The Tories cannot be permitted, and are not permitted, to continue in their campaign of deceit and self-delusion against the new generation of Republicans ready to unseat them. They are currently losing the battle for control of their party within the House, and preventing total defeat—imminent or eventual—requires controlling the narrative. But, as will be seen, the Tories’ narrative that they are a sagacious group of statesmen, deeply concerned with promoting Republican ideals, but who are prevented from governing by an irrational minority within their own party, does not survive a careful examination of the facts.
But a careful examination of the facts is exactly what we set out to offer here. Over the next several weeks, we will address four primary problems with the current culture in Republican leadership and its conflicts with the limited-government factions of its own party. They are as follows:
- That Republican leaders prioritized winning seats over principle, but that the value of a majority means considerably less without the principles to direct it towards a purposeful, systematic program of action
- That the Establishment has forgotten the fundamental purpose of politics
- That there is pervasive misunderstanding by all parties today of the nature of compromise, when it is moral and when it is not
- That the right wing of the Republican Party today is far from the bunch of revolutionary extremists that they are portrayed to be
We take considerable detail with these points because we believe that the Republican Party is at a crucial moment–not only because of the current presidential primary and the state of the country but also because of the striking ideological changes that have developed within the party over the last five years and the need to direct those energies toward productive purposes. As always, our aim is the betterment and support of neither individual candidates nor the Republican Party itself but of the country that we love and seek to restore.
End Part I.