No, there’s no serious revolt brewing among House Republicans against Speaker John Boehner, despite what appears to be an attempt by one backbencher — Mark Meadows of North Carolina — to oust him.
Boehner has been protected because the things that make him unpopular with party hard-liners are unavoidable for any Republican speaker during divided government, no matter how conservative or combative that leader can claim to be. Any speaker who wants a bill passed has to make a deal with Barack Obama and avoid a filibuster by Democrats in the Senate.
So how can we tell which threats against Boehner are real, and which are just talk (or, as some House Republican conference members suggest, fund-raising stunts)?
That’s easy. If the attacks come from the group of radicals who habitually vote against him for speaker every two years, then it’s a stunt.
Real coup plotters don’t go public until they have the votes. What they might do, however, is leak specific complaints, especially if their House leaders can do something about these grievances. (Those who moved against Newt Gingrich in 1998 — not radicals, but pragmatic conservatives — had specific objections to how the House was organized.)
Perhaps Meadows and his like-minded colleagues are playing to the voters out there who mistakenly believe that legislating is simply a matter of wanting something the most. In this fairy tale, Republicans haven’t repealed the health-care act because they surrender too easily, not because they don’t have the votes. (Conservatives aren’t the only ones who have these kinds of illusions; plenty of Democrats sincerely believe Obama could have signed single-payer health care into law if only he had wanted it.)
So if you want to take the temperature of House Republicans, don’t pay attention to those who are always upset with the speaker. They aren’t going to depose him. Keep your eye on mainstream conservatives, especially those who hold power in the institution (such as committee chairmen or members of the leadership). If they get upset, Boehner’s days will be numbered. But for now, they appear to be happy with his leadership — as they should be.
Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist covering U.S. politics.
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