At a presser today, John Boehner finally went Bulworth on the conservative groups that have been making his life miserable for so long:
“Frankly I think they’re misleading their followers. I think they’re pushing our members in places where they want to be. And frankly I just think they’ve lost all credibility,” he told reporters at his weekly press conference Thursday. “There comes a point when people step over the line. When you criticize something and you have no idea what you’re criticizing, it undermines your credibility.” [...]
“You know, they pushed us into this fight to defund Obamacare and shut down the government,” he said. “It wasn’t exactly the strategy I had in mind. But if you recall, the day before the government re-opened, one of the people at one of these groups stood up and said, ‘well we never really thought it would work.’ Are you kidding me?”
Asked if he thinks the groups should “stand down,” Boehner said, “I don’t care what they do.”
There’s some choice hilarity here. Boehner says conservative groups “pushed” Republicans into the destructive government shutdown fight. You’d almost think he was some kind of passive, helpless onlooker, rather than, you know, the leader of House Republicans. Also, as you may recall, Boehner actively wanted Republicans to make a stand around the debt ceiling, which, if anything, was crazier than the shutdown standoff. Remember the “Boehner Rule“?
That aside, Boehner has often tread far too carefully around the sensibilities of his right flank, and as a result has been frustratingly opaque about his actual views on matters from the government shutdown to immigration reform. Now he has finally told us what he thinks of these groups, and that’s a positive first step.
There are all kinds of reasons why this has happened. As Danny Vinink points out, Boehner now has incentives for refusing to bow to the Tea Party, from the fact that Paul Ryan is now on his side, to the need to prevent chaos governing from taking the focus off Obamacare. (Here’s a case where absolute GOP certainty that the health law will fail over time and shower the GOP with nonstop riches has produced positive results.) Meanwhile, Brian Beutler argues persuasively that, by refusing to budge in the last shutdown and forcing a GOP cave, Obama finally drove home to House Republicans the limits of what sabotage governing can accomplish, leaving Boehner with little choice but to tell the sabotage governing brigade to take a hike.
Here’s what to watch now: Will Boehner pay any price for this — and for the expected passage of today’s sellout budget deal — within his caucus? Remember, many observers thought that Boehner took us over the cliff into a government shutdown precisely because, by fighting the good fight for as long as possible, he could minimize any damage he’d suffer among House conservatives. The result was that many of them applauded his efforts. Now he’s cutting the Tea Party loose in a very public and dramatic way.
If there aren’t serious repercussions within his caucus, won’t that suggest that the party’s right flank has been very badly weakened in ways that should have real ramifications going forward? After all, if Boehner is really serious about stiff-arming these groups, arguing that their destructive and failed tactics have proven them to have no credibility, we won’t be seeing another debt ceiling hostage crisis later this year, right?
And why stop there? Now that Boehner is a free man, let’s move on to extending unemployment insurance, reforming immigration and ending anti-gay workplace discrimination!