John Boehner is gone. The old Republican Party has been overthrown. Well, not really – Boehner won’t be gone until November and Jeb Bush and establishment Republicans are still out there. Mitch McConnell runs the Senate, not Ted Cruz. The Club for Growth and the national Chamber of Commerce, with the help of the American Enterprise Institute, still set the party’s agenda – not any formal national Tea Party organization, because there isn’t one. Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck only snipe from the outside – but the peasants have stormed the Bastille and freed the prisoners. No Tea Party patriot in the House will now have to endure John Boehner, or anyone else, ever again cutting deals with Nancy Pelosi or Obama to keep the government running, to keep the lights on, when there are higher principles at stake – defunding Planned Parenthood, getting rid of Obamacare and the Import-Export Bank and the EPA, and making sure that anyone can marginalize and take away the rights of gay citizens, in the name of religious freedom. These same folks are saying that Mitch McConnell is next. The revolution may not be complete, but the revolution is well underway. It can’t be stopped. Popular revolutions can never be stopped.
That may be so, but that Bastille thing didn’t work out well. Our revolution worked out well – the Brits were on the other side of the ocean after all. The French had a different experience. Yeah, they got rid of the Ancien Régime – the king lost his head and the people took over – and it started off just fine. There was the storming of the Bastille in July 1789 and the passage of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen that August. Then it was chaos. What comes next? What was the plan? There was none. That led to Robespierre and the Jacobins and their Committee of Public Safety and the Reign of Terror. These guys had a plan. In 1793-1794 they executed forty thousand civilians who disagreed with the plan, those who weren’t sufficiently revolutionary.
That wouldn’t do. The people rose up again. An executive council known as the Directory assumed control of the French state in 1795 – but they were hopelessly corrupt. The Directory collapsed in a coup led by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1799 – the man who eventually proclaimed himself emperor of everything. He even invaded Russia. That didn’t go well, and then he met his Waterloo. What was that revolution about again? No one could agree on what should come next. The French ended up trading a king for an emperor.
At least we had a plan, eventually. We started our revolution in 1776, and on September 17, 1787, we had a Constitution. That was ratified on June 21, 1788. Yeah, it took a dozen years of hard work, but we finally decided what should come next, after the revolution, and that’s worked out pretty well so far. Our Constitution is all about how to run this place sensibly, about what can be done and what cannot, and how to moderate the craziness that pops up all the time in all political systems. There’s a reason for all those checks and balances.
We got it. Revolution, in and of itself, is exciting – but no more than that. There’s Robespierre. Extreme revolutionaries, the purists, tend to ruin everything. There are things that cannot be done in the real world, and concerning the current Republican Revolution, John Boehner gets it:
Outgoing U.S. House Speaker John Boehner took aim at hardliners in his Republican Party whom he likened to “false prophets” that promise more than they can deliver on issues such as cutting off federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
In his first interview since announcing he would resign from Congress at the end of October, Boehner took aim at conservative hardliners who promise more than they can deliver on issues like cutting funding for Planned Parenthood. Appearing Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation, Boehner was asked by host John Dickerson whether some in his party were “unrealistic about what can be done in government.”
“Absolutely, they’re unrealistic!” Boehner exclaimed. “But, you know, the Bible says beware of false prophets, and there are people out there spreading noise about how much can get done.”
He didn’t say beware of Robespierre, but revolutionary purists are often dangerous fools:
Boehner cited the 2013 government shutdown that was centered on the prospect of defunding the Affordable Care Act – also known as Obamacare – as an example of unrealistic, wishful thinking.
“This plan never had a chance,” Boehner said.
Still, the Ohio Republican said that outside groups were also to blame for stoking quixotic hopes among the far right.
“We got groups here in town, members of the House and Senate here in town, who whip people into a frenzy believing they can accomplish things that they know – they know! – are never going to happen.”
Boehner didn’t name those in Congress by name who he believed most guilty of stoking a false sense of empowerment, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz who led the charge in the 2013 government shutdown.
“Listen, you can pick a lot of names out; I’ll let you choose ’em,” Boehner said.
Everyone knows who they are, but at least Boehner has two admirers left:
“I admire John Boehner greatly, he’s a great public servant,” Jeb Bush said on Fox News Sunday, adding, “I think people are going to miss him in the long run because he’s a person that is focused on solving problems.”
Even Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders offered a measure of sympathy for the balancing act Boehner had to attempt.
“Well, John has had an impossibly difficult job trying to reconcile the conservative wing of his caucus with the extreme, extreme right wing of his caucus that really will not do anything and pass any legislation that Barack Obama will sign,” Bernie Sanders said Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. “It’s an impossible job. And I admire John for his tenacity and hanging in there for five tough years.”
Yeah, but he was overthrown in a way. He let the crazies win. But what comes next now that they have? The Washington Post’s David Weigel explores that, framing it this way:
The Republican Party came into 2015 in enviably good shape. Not since the Roaring Twenties had it elected so many members of Congress, and it had never controlled so many state legislatures. Its presidential field was the strongest in memory and the most racially diverse in history. Democrats, meanwhile, were led by a second-term president and his aging would-be successors.
Then came a topsy-turvy summer of presidential politics led by the unexpected popularity of Donald Trump – and rather than fading away as many predicted, the political climate has led to an even more tumultuous autumn: Just in the past week, onetime rising star Scott Walker dropped from the presidential race and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) stepped down. Both were undone by forces from within.
Boehner’s final act was an attempt to stop conservatives from triggering a shutdown fight over the defunding of Planned Parenthood. That has been put off, but only for now. Approval of the GOP-led Congress is in the teens, even among the Republicans who voted for it. People who have never won elections – billionaire Trump, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson and former Hewlett-Packard chief executive Carly Fiorina – command higher support than the rest of the GOP presidential field put together and share an ability to force unwelcome topics into the news cycle.
And thus we have a revolution underway:
The unrest was evident at this weekend’s Values Voter Summit, an annual gathering of social conservatives where, when Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) announced Boehner’s resignation, a ballroom’s worth of activists rumbled with applause. Trump mocked Boehner as a weakling that nobody really liked. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to follow Boehner out, for “the surrender caucus” to put down the gavels.
“That’s one down, that’s 434 more to go,” said Jindal, a former congressman. “Folks, it is time to fire everybody in D.C.”
The Ancien Régime is being bumped off:
Boehner’s departure was the third, and hardest, in a series of establishment body blows. The first was former Texas governor Rick Perry’s departure from the presidential race. Never a front-runner, Perry had studied hard after his 2012 implosion, and he had called Trump a “cancer on conservatism.” Voters didn’t heed him.
The second blow came when Walker, the governor of Wisconsin who had emerged as a tea party hero in 2010 after taking on that state’s public unions, ended his presidential campaign.
Neither man was an “insider.” Both disdained Washington. Neither could capture the anger of Republican voters.
“If the country were looking for a courageous, hard-working, relatively quiet person, you couldn’t do better than Scott Walker,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker. “The minute he gets up and says, ‘I’ve won three elections,’ they say, ‘Next person.’ Trump changed the world. He ignited the legitimacy of being angry, noisy and aggressive.”
This may be Trump’s revolution, but Weigel blames Boehner too:
No one’s idea of a liberal, the congressman had started his speakership with a ban on earmarks. He had smothered all of the Democrats’ legislative goals, most notably immigration reform. Through committee appointments, he had turned House hearing rooms into murder boards for the Obama administration, not least after he created the Select Committee on Benghazi.
The problem was that the Republican Party’s conservative base had been promised more – sometimes by Boehner himself. The historic 2010 wins that gave him the gavel were powered by the tea party movement, which demanded the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and which Boehner indulged on the trail. In his first post-victory news conference, Boehner promised that Republicans would “do everything we can to try to repeal this bill and replace it with common-sense reforms.”
That never happened. Stand-alone repeal bills were smashed by the Senate. The debt limit, which conservatives attempted to turn into a vehicle for repeal, was passed with a smaller package of spending cuts. In 2013, those same conservatives were joined by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) in a fight that briefly shut down the government, before it was reopened with full Obamacare funding. In 2014, conservatives won another landslide, and McConnell, the new Senate majority leader, seemed to suggest that they could finally unravel the Obama administration, “reducing the funding or restricting the funding” for bad law.
Some minor tweaks later, the health-care law is intact, and few of the president’s executive actions have been undone. The conservative movement, from its media to its grass-roots groups, blamed anyone who had worked in Washington.
They did, however, bring that on themselves. Revolutionary talk is dangerous. Your own folks might take you seriously, and then they turn on you:
“Rather than fighting President Obama and his liberal policies, Speaker Boehner embraced them and betrayed his party’s own voters,” said Ken Cuccinelli II, the former attorney general of Virginia who runs the Senate Conservatives Fund.
“For five years, Speaker Boehner has heard loud and clear from the people who gave him a Republican majority that they wanted conservative leadership,” said onetime Tea Party Patriots leader Mark Meckler. “For five years, he has practiced surrender, capitulation and compromise of conservative principles.”
Many Republicans in office owe their jobs to that sentiment. In some states, where Republicans control every level of government, the anger can be directed. Nationally, it’s uncontrollable. The louder the attack on the president, the more the base wants to hear.
“This is why outsiders are all leading in the polls,” said Gov. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a former congressman who served alongside Boehner. “This is probably a key part of why Boehner’s resigning. They don’t want to hear any excuses anymore – they’re done with that. If you say you tried, they ask, ‘Why didn’t you get it done?'”
That would be because it couldn’t be done? In the New York Times, David Herszenhorn and Jonathan Martin explore that:
There are signs of more mainstream conservatives pushing back, saying the tactics demonstrated by hard-liners have accomplished nothing except the early departure of Mr. Boehner.
“The people who keep saying that they want things to happen, what have they accomplished?” Gov. John R. Kasich of Ohio, a Republican presidential candidate, asked Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. “Maybe they ought to look in the mirror. What have they accomplished? I mean, are they just speechmakers? Are they just people out there yelling and screaming?”
That’s all they’re doing:
The hardline group has not put forward a viable candidate for speaker and, with only 50 or so members, does not have enough to elevate one of its own. While that leaves Mr. Boehner’s No. 2, Kevin McCarthy of California, the majority leader, well positioned to succeed him, it was clear that the speaker’s critics viewed his departure not as a moment to reunify the party but to push harder against the establishment. …
The hardliners seem poised to attack a likely deal this week between Mr. Boehner and Democrats to avoid a government shutdown as yet another example of collusion between establishment Republican leaders and the Obama White House.
And the legislative stakes will become greater. Congress will most likely have to vote this fall on whether to raise the federal debt ceiling as well as deal with the imminent expiration of many highway programs, a continuing debate over reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank and the need for a longer-term spending bill with an expected deadline of Dec. 11.
This will not go well:
Even as conservatives rage against not having 60 votes in the Senate to overcome Democratic filibusters, or the two-thirds majority needed to override a presidential veto, their fiery language is almost certain to diminish the party’s chances of expanding its majorities. That would require winning seats in swing states and districts, where voters often prefer more centrist views.
“A lurch to the right is suicidal,” said Gregory Slayton, a Republican fund-raiser who backed Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin in the presidential race before he dropped out a week ago. …
Representative Bill Flores of Texas, head of the Republican Study Committee, said the hard-liners often seemed bent on destruction. “If you look at what’s happened the last few weeks, you have had people trying to burn the House down,” he said.
Yes, they don’t want Kevin McCarthy, second to Boehner, to replace him, as that would be more of the same, and so on:
There are also contests for the other top positions, and the fiercest fight is expected to be for majority leader. Among the main contenders are Steve Scalise of Louisiana, currently No. 3 in the leadership; the conference chairwoman, Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington; and the Budget Committee chairman, Tom Price of Georgia. Conservatives are demanding that one of their own be represented, and it is not clear that Ms. McMorris Rodgers or Mr. Price would satisfy them.
Representative Peter Roskam of Illinois was urging his colleagues not to rush to choose a new team, encouraging them instead to meet and form a concrete plan of action first.
“We need a plan, not a person,” he said in an interview.
Someone had been reading about the French Revolution:
“I think over time you’re going to see people coming back to realize that we’ve got to have an adult in the room, a person that can beat a Democrat,” said Fred Zeidman, a Texas contributor to Mr. Bush, who has been eclipsed so far by Mr. Trump. Mr. Zeidman said Mr. Boehner’s exit worried him a great deal because it might embolden the hard-liners in Congress.
“If we shut the government down, we’re dead,” he said.
Revolutions are often like that, when no one is thinking what’s next, and Bloomberg’s Sam Tanenhaus considers this:
Should Donald Trump, in particular, remain a force, a crisis could come in which “the Republican establishment completely freaks out,” Mark McKinnon, a strategist who has advised both George W. Bush and John McCain, said on NPR recently.
If faced with a runaway victory by Donald Trump or even a convention in which he arrives controlling a large number of delegates, top Republicans might “get together and say, this is unacceptable, but it looks like it’s going to happen. So we go off, and we create a new Republican Party as an independent candidacy.”
You say you want a revolution? Two can play at that game:
McKinnon allowed that this scenario might seem “wild and improbable.” For one thing, the Republican candidates have pledged to support the winner of their primary season. But the solution he described – a rebellion within the party and directed in some sense against it – isn’t unprecedented. In fact, there is a long history of revolutions from above, by Republicans and Democrats alike.
One example – and it has been cited by conservative writers like Michael Gerson as a model for Republicans to follow – was the Democratic Leadership Council. Formed in the 1980s, its members (who included Bill Clinton) pulled the party closer to the center in an effort to attract voters alienated by nominees like George McGovern.
These things happen:
In the 1850s, when the modern Republican Party was founded, its great leaders were former Northern Whigs like Abraham Lincoln and William Seward who responded to the growing fervor of the Free Soil movement. They realized a new party was needed, founded on anti-slavery principles, a burning issue in the frontier where new territories and states were being settled.
Another rebellion from above came in the 1910s when Theodore Roosevelt worried the Republican Party had lost sight of the Progressive principles that had guided his own presidency and had met public demand for more effective regulation of business and better protection against the upheavals of industrialism. Inspired by thinkers like Herbert Croly and Walter Lippmann, Roosevelt tried to redirect the party to higher ground, and then ran himself, in 1912, on a third-party Progressive platform premised on a “new nationalism.”
His campaign failed, though it resulted in one of the greatest campaigns in history, and the winner, Woodrow Wilson, pursued a Progressive agenda.
And then there’s Dwight Eisenhower:
A moderate Republican elected in a landslide in 1952, he was appalled by the resistance his proposals met in Congress – not from Democrats but from conservative Republicans, who seemed not to grasp the realities of cold-war America. The country could no longer be isolationist, nor could a Republican president simply roll back New Deal programs that had been in place for almost 20 years and return to pre-Depression fiscal policy.
Eisenhower was so frustrated that in 1953 “he began asking his most intimate associates whether he did not have to start thinking about a new party,” Robert J. Donovan wrote in his book “Eisenhower: The Inside Story,” published in 1956. But Eisenhower was also a pragmatist. “He brought up the case of the Progressive Party which Roosevelt headed as an example of how third parties, even though they may serve a useful purpose at the time, are unable to survive.”
Eisenhower chose a different course. Rather than stalking off on his own, he decided “to persevere in trying to give the Republican Party a new viewpoint and a new complexion,” Donovan noted.
When delegates met at the nominating convention in 1956, “modern Republicans” dominated the national committee and held party chairmanships in 41 of the 48 states.
The party’s platform called for raising the minimum wage and a constitutional amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women. On civil rights, it boasted that “more progress has been made in this field under the present Republican Administration than in any similar period in the last 80 years.”
Eisenhower’s re-election, an even bigger landslide than his first, was probably the most effective revolution from above in modern history. And it was remarkably bold. “By emphasizing the distinction between the President and his party, what the campaign strategists did was to read Mr. Eisenhower out of the party,” Richard Rovere observed in The New Yorker.
Cool, but forget that now:
With no transcendent figure like Eisenhower to turn to and no credentialed leader like Ronald Reagan with a history of appealing to moderate and independent voters, it was left to outsider candidates to expose the party’s depleted ideology. And the current candidates’ ability to maneuver is hampered by their pledge to support the winner of their primary season.
It is not even clear that a true Republican establishment exists any longer. When Robert Siegel of NPR asked Mark McKinnon who its members might be, McKinnon was stumped. “That’s a good point,” he replied. “It will be the big-money donors who get together and say, we need to figure out an alternate solution. And it will be all about the money and who they back.”
Well, those guys can have their revolution too. Either way, the old Republican Party is gone. Chaos will follow, and maybe a Robespierre. Does Ted Cruz speak French?