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“Nothing Less Than Total War Will Suffice”: Why Republicans Will Face The Same Disaster No Matter Who They Crown Speaker

Liberals and conservatives can agree on one thing about departing Speaker of the House John Boehner: He was terrible at his job.

Liberals look at how Boehner was yanked around by the reactionary extremists in his party, kept staging showdowns that never got the GOP any of what it sought, and couldn’t unify his caucus for anything more meaningful than 50 futile votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and say, “What a loser.” Conservatives look at how he failed to actually repeal the Affordable Care Act (or anything else), blinked when he stared down President Obama, and generally failed to “stand up” tall enough to cut the administration down to size, and think, “What a wimp.”

They may both be right, at least in part. But what Republicans probably don’t realize is that their next speaker probably won’t be able to do any better — not now, and not after the next president is elected.

Right now Republicans in the House are in the process of picking that speaker, and it has turned into a real contest. Up until a week ago it was assumed that Kevin McCarthy, Boehner’s second-in-command, would waltz into the job. But after he said what everyone knows to be true — that the purpose of the select committee on Benghazi is to do political damage to Hillary Clinton — Republicans whispered “Ixnay on the ooth-tray!” and began looking around for an alternative (it’s amazing what an effect one ill-considered remark can have). Into that breach stepped Jason Chaffetz, a young conservative from Utah who has been seen as an up-and-comer, but nobody thought would be contending for this job so soon.

Unlike any speaker in memory, neither McCarthy nor Chaffetz has been in Congress very long. McCarthy is in his fifth term, and Chaffetz is in his fourth (Boehner and his predecessor Nancy Pelosi had each served 10 terms before becoming speaker). Neither one of them is known as some kind of legislative wizard with the ability to keep his caucus together and shepherd difficult bills through the Congress. That’s partly because they haven’t had the chance, but the truth is it won’t matter.

Think about what the next speaker of the House is going to spend his time doing. Between now and January 2017, the answer is, not much. Boehner is hoping to strike a two-year budget deal on his way out that would mean no more threatened government shutdowns between now and the election, essentially saving the Republican Party from its own representatives in the House. If he succeeds, the next speaker will spend his time bringing up symbolic votes to satisfy the party’s right wing, and maybe starting a new investigation or two (the Select Committee on Why Hillary Clinton Is a Jerk, perhaps?). But he won’t be passing any actual legislation.

That’s because the tea partiers who helped push Boehner out and whose assent is needed for the next speaker to win the office don’t want any legislating, and they don’t want any deal-making. This was what Boehner discovered, to his endless dismay. For that portion of the caucus, many of whom got elected since 2010, nothing less than total war against the opposition will suffice. That war isn’t something you do in order to achieve a policy victory, it’s the whole point of being in Congress in the first place. The measure of success is whether you “stood up” with sufficient strength and resolve, not whether you actually accomplished anything.

If a Democrat becomes president in 2016, that will not change. The vast majority of those House members come from safe Republican seats; the only way they’ll leave is if they lose a primary to someone even more doctrinaire. So we’d have four more years of what we’ve had lately: an endless stalemate punctuated by the occasional crisis, accompanied by conservative cries that the GOP leadership is weak and ineffectual.

And what if a Republican wins the 2016 election? Although it might seem like it would be an orgy of bill-passing as Republicans finally get the chance to do whatever they want without fear of a presidential veto, it might turn out not to be so easy, and not only because Democrats could still filibuster bills in the Senate. Remember how complicated it was for Barack Obama to pass the stimulus, Wall Street reform, and the Affordable Care Act? That was when he had large majorities in both houses. They got a great deal done, but it was a struggle every step of the way.

When your party can ostensibly pass whatever laws it wants, intra-party divisions come to the fore as members try to shape the legislation to their liking and realize that they can extract concessions by being difficult. When there’s actually a real accomplishment in the offing — let’s say a tax cut, or a big increase in military spending, or a restriction on abortion rights — the obstruction of a few members can have real consequences, and that will give every rump faction the ability to extort real concessions to whatever it is they want. The caucus could be riven by divisions between the extremely conservative members and the incredibly conservative members, in which case you’d need a speaker with some deal-making skills.

And in that period of 2009 to 2010, Democrats in Congress were led (and still are) by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi, strong leaders with decades of legislative experience who understood how to corral and move the caucuses they led. Republicans may not like them, but nobody thinks they aren’t very good at what they do, particularly Pelosi. On the Republican side you might say the same about Mitch McConnell in the Senate, but would Kevin McCarthy or Jason Chaffetz be able to be as effective a leader in keeping their caucus together as Pelosi has been? Now consider that the Republican House can’t stay together when it has zero chance of passing anything into law. Just imagine what a mess it will be when there’s actually something at stake.

I could be wrong, but I’d be surprised if either McCarthy or Chaffetz is talking a lot to their colleagues about the complexities and difficulties 2017 and beyond could pose with a Republican president, and how their particular skills and experience will help them navigate that minefield. If they are, then they’re more forward-looking than I imagine.


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Week, October 6, 2015

October 7, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, House Republican Caucus, John Boehner | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Ill Suited For The Historical Moment”: Was John Boehner A Victim Of Circumstance Or An Incompetent Bumbler?

You can’t fire me, John Boehner just told House Republicans, because I quit!

Amid yet more talk about a coup by ultra-conservative Republicans looking to replace him with one of their own — talk that has emerged seemingly every few months since he became Speaker of the House after the 2010 election — Boehner has finally decided to pack it in. And he’s not even waiting until his term runs out; instead, he’ll retire from Congress next month, presumably to become a spectacularly well-remunerated lobbyist.

Even Boehner’s most stalwart allies would have trouble arguing that his tenure was anything other than a failure. But the question is, how much of it was Boehner’s fault? Was he in an impossible situation from which no speaker could have wrung much success, or was he just terrible at his job?

The answer, I’d submit, is both. Boehner’s circumstances made success somewhere between unlikely and impossible. But along the way, he proved himself incapable of changing that situation in any way, seeming to make the worst of every crisis and showdown.

Let’s look at Boehner’s accomplishments in his nearly five years as speaker. Well, there’s…um…hmm. Can you think of any?

Conservatives might say that by joining with Mitch McConnell in a strategy of total and complete opposition to this administration, he helped stop Barack Obama from doing some things Obama might otherwise have done. Or I suppose one might argue that he limited the damage members of his own party could do to the country. Despite threatening to shut down the government more times than you can count, there was only one actual shutdown, in 2013. And we didn’t default on our debt by not raising the debt ceiling, which would have been catastrophic.

But that’s not much of a record of success. Boehner can’t say that he achieved any conservative ideological goals. But he did hold 50-odd votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which is just about the opposite of a substantive achievement.

Granted, when your party doesn’t hold the White House, you aren’t going to be passing significant legislation to accomplish your own objectives. But you still might work with the other party to get some things done. That has happened in the past — legislative leaders have worked with a president of the other party to do big things like tax reform. But not anymore.

You also might mold your caucus into a unified force of strategic opposition, not just making the president’s life difficult but setting the stage for a successful wave of legislation the next time you do have control of both the legislative and executive branches. That’s what Nancy Pelosi succeeded in doing when George W. Bush was president, in advance of the Democratic takeover of Congress in 2006. But Boehner couldn’t do that either — his speakership was spent fighting with members of his own party, and each successive crisis only made them look less and less serious.

From the beginning, Boehner may have been ill-suited to the historical moment. He was an old-school pol, the kind who favored hashing out deals over cigars and whiskey, but he was elevated to the speakership in a revolution fueled by anger, resentment, and distrust of party leaders. He spent his time as speaker trying constantly to mollify a group of unreasonable members for whom any compromise was betrayal, and the idea of strategically avoiding a confrontation today to put yourself in a better position tomorrow was just too sophisticated for them to wrap their heads around. They’re a group of bomb-throwers and lectern-pounders, who (like their mentor Ted Cruz) think that “standing up to Obama” is a substantive accomplishment in and of itself to be proud of.

That’s not to mention the fact that the rightward drift of the Republican Party, particularly in Boehner’s House, has made strategic action in the party’s long-term interest virtually impossible. The best example is immigration, where everyone including Boehner acknowledged that the party needed to pass comprehensive reform in order to prove to Hispanic voters that the GOP was not hostile to them. But it couldn’t happen because so many in Boehner’s caucus are ultra-conservative members who hail from conservative districts where they need only fear a challenge from the right. So they don’t want comprehensive reform, and neither do their constituents.

Could a more skilled speaker have found a way out of that conundrum? It’s hard to see how, other than the obvious way: by passing reform using a combination of votes from Democrats and sane Republicans. This was the option Boehner faced again and again on funding the government, and he only took it when things reached the point of crisis. Every time, observers wondered if it would lead to a revolt that would displace him as speaker, but his saving grace turned out to be that the job was so miserable that nobody else wanted it.

It’s still unclear how Boehner’s announcement will affect the current shutdown crisis we’re approaching, but since he no longer has to worry about his job, he may just bring it to a quick conclusion by throwing the conservatives some meaningless bone of a symbolic vote on Planned Parenthood, then putting a clean continuing resolution up to a vote (that seems to be the direction they’re moving). The CR would probably pass with Democratic support, and then doomsday could be avoided for a while, with Boehner’s replacement left to enact the next iteration of this absurd ritual once the CR runs out.

It would, in its way, be a fitting end to the Boehner speakership: a needless crisis driven by ultra-conservative members Boehner can’t control, finally resolved — but only temporarily — in a way that leads those members to call him a traitor and sets the stage for yet another crisis before long.

Can anyone blame him for wanting to get the hell out?


By: Paul Waldman, Senior Writer, The American Prospect; Contributor, The Plum Line Blog, The Washington Post, September 25, 2015

September 28, 2015 Posted by | Conservatives, GOP, House Republicans, John Boehner | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Desperate Attempt To Remain Relevant”: Rudy Giuliani Digs Himself Deeper Into The Hole With WSJ Op-Ed

Now that Rudy Giuliani—in a desperate attempt to remain relevant—has succeeded in squeezing every bit of publicity out of his despicable remarks aimed at his President, the one-time Mayor and current lobbyist is following a script typically pursued by political cowards who transgress reason, judgment, and wisdom in the effort to be noticed.

Rudy is attempting to turn his outrageous behavior into a “teachable moment.”

In an op-ed written for today’s Wall Street Journal, Giuliani attempts to convince us that, whether you agree with his offensive remarks or not, he hopes that the event can be “the basis of a real conversation about national leadership.”

A bit late for that, Mr. Mayor, wouldn’t you say?

In what likely passes for the closest thing to an apology Giuliani is capable of mustering, the Mayor states,

“My blunt language suggesting that the president doesn’t love America notwithstanding, I didn’t intend to question President Obama’s motives or the content of his heart. My intended focus really was the effect his words and his actions have on the morale of the country, and how that effect may damage his performance.”


When you boldly and directly state that a President doesn’t love his country, while suggesting that this lack of affection is the result of not being like us, you have to be something of a fool to imagine that you can return to the fray pretending that what you meant to say was you don’t like how the President speaks on the subject of American exceptionalism.

Frankly, a discussion of American exceptionalism would have served the nation—and Giuliani himself—far better that Rudy’s remarks on the President’s emotional bearings.

Of course, such a conversation would not have earned the Mayor his moment in the media spotlight.

While I am more than comfortable in expressing my own admiration and love for my country, I have been vocal in the media venues available to me in stating that for so long as my country continues to breach its agreement with military veterans by failing to provide them with the care and treatment we promised when asking them to fight for us, we cannot—and must not—claim to be an exceptional nation.

An exceptional nation does not permit a military veteran to be frozen out of the VA, left to suffer and die because they are denied the treatment they were promised, just as an exceptional nation does not permit a military veteran to live on the street.

Fix this critical problem and then we can return to describing ourselves as being exceptional.

Of course, I recognize that there will be those who disagree with my political viewpoints who will refuse to accept my proclamation of patriotism because they haven’t yet realized that political disagreement is as fundamental to America as apple pie and baseball.

I also recognize that there will always be those who remind us of that ridiculous chant during the Viet Nam War days where those who supported the war would encourage those who were opposed to either “love America or leave it,” never realizing the profound irony of this moronic entreaty.

Those who question another’s patriotism on the basis of political disagreement have yet to grasp that men such as Thomas Jefferson and John Adams disagreed mightily on what direction the nation they founded should take—yet is anyone prepared to suggest that either of these men did not love his country?

Rudy Guiliani, someone whom I once respected, while admittedly disagreeing with his political point of view, now stands as the point of the spear of this slice of America that does not really understand America—and that is a real shame.

This reality is best highlighted in the last sentence of Giuliani’s effort to pull his already burnt bacon out of the fire.

Giuliani writes, “I hope also that our president will start acting and speaking in a way that draws sharp, clear distinctions between us and those who threaten our way of life.”

The same goes for you, Mayor Giuliani.

You see, while we all understand who you are referencing when referring to “us and those who threaten our way of life,” and I certainly concur with your concern, you fail to understand that Americans who cannot grasp that we can disagree over policy and politicking without questioning one another’s love and fealty to their nation also poses a great threat to our way of life—a way of life brilliantly prescribed by the nation’s creators who would have taken profound exception to your stinging, offensive and despicable words.


By: Rick Ungar, Contributor, Forbes, February 23, 2015

February 26, 2015 Posted by | American Exceptionalism, Patriotism, Rudy Giuliani | , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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