Today we were greeted with the news that House Speaker John Boehner, unable to cobble together a debt ceiling hike which would bring along a majority of his conference, caved and agreed to a clean hike, passed with a minority of GOP votes, the rest of the votes supplied by Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats. As reported in the Washington Post:
House Republican leaders told members Tuesday morning that it is clear their latest attempt at seeking a concession in the debt ceiling debate will not attract enough support, so they will be bringing up a “clean” debt limit bill, according to several GOP people inside their Tuesday morning huddle.
This “surrender” was not greeted kindly by the Tea Party rump.
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) made his opposition known in dramatic fashion. “How about you talk to my son and tell him about the debt that he’s going to pay,” he said. Flashing his phone at TPM, he raised his voice: “$17.3 trillion right now. … He’s a Clemson student. I’d be glad for you to explain how he’s going to pay that back.”
And thus John Boehner is forced, yet again, to go hat in hand to Nancy Pelosi, and beg for Democratic support to pass the basic business of government. When he’s put out as being the most ineffective Speaker in modern history, others say that “No, he’s being very effective at stymying government.” But he’s not even able to do that. His great battle, shutting down the government in 2013, was a colossal failure and defeat, due to a misreading of both President Obama and the national mood. He was forced to surrender unconditionally, getting nothing of what he had demanded, having brought the country to the brink of insolvency.
When I speak of a “Republican civil war”, let me be clear that I’m not speaking of anything so grand as a fight for the “party’s soul.” Many “mainstream” Republicans are as far to the right as the Tea Party faction. The civil war is one of strategy and tactics. The problem is that the Tea Party faction consists of people who eschew strategy and tactics. They are the true believers, ones who think that merely by remaining pure and true they can bring the rest of the country with them. They don’t believe in polls which show that the movement has a dearth of popularity among non-Republicans. Any failures are attributed to a lack of will and conviction, not to the fact that the ideology is bankrupt and frightens most Americans.
Mainstream Republicans want many of the same things as Tea Party members. They just want to disguise their goals more carefully, not putting the racism and radicalism of the Tea Party at the forefront.
The problem is, that without the energy of the Tea Party, the GOP would already be a dead party. Teabaggers have kept the GOP on life support for the past five years, providing the shock troops for the 2010 takeover. And Republicans disgusted with the Tea Party haven’t fought them in local boards, but have merely left the party all together. Thus, as the Tea Party becomes more marginalized in the broader electorate, it continues to battle for the GOP as it becomes a bigger percentage of its dwindling adherents.
This dynamic, and the titanic demographic shifts occurring in the country, doom the GOP on a national level. Their only hope is to hold out in their gerrymandered districts. But even that is a will-o-the-wisp. There are some districts which will never vote for a Democrat. But there are enough purple districts which could swing with good Democratic candidates. If Tea Partiers in these districts stay home out of disaffection with another GOP cave, and Democratic voters view 2014 with the same urgency they viewed 2012, then Democrats can recapture the House. What John Boehner just did was give the Tea Party another reason to either stay home in November, or pull out the knives and carry out a political war in full view of the electorate. Either road leads to the same destination.
The election of 2012 was of monumental importance. It showed that corporate money couldn’t buy the White House. The election this November will go a long way to determining if the same is true of the Congress. The Koch Brothers and their allies have already poured millions into House and Senate races, and the election season hasn’t even started. But John Boehner is the best ally a future Speaker Pelosi can have. His incompetence plants seeds of doubt in a voter’s mind; if Boehner has to plead with Pelosi for votes, why not just hand the gavel back to her?
Thank you, John Boehner. First, for facing reality and putting a clean debt ceiling hike on the floor. But secondly, for proving again and again that if Americans want a functioning government, voting Democrat is the only option.