John Boehner, Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy
Speaker John Boehner, center, with Reps. Eric Cantor, left, and Kevin McCarthy (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

There was nothing for Republicans to like in the “fiscal cliff” deal negotiated by Vice President Biden and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. But nothing else could be responsibly done in the limited time and political realities facing members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. That’s why, of all the drama that went down yesterday among House GOPers over getting the deal passed, I am most fascinated by the split in the Republican leadership.

Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) voted yes. As did Reps. Paul Ryan (Wis.), the 2012 Republican vice presidential nominee and chair of the Budget Committee, and Dave Camp (Mich.), chair of the powerful tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Meanwhile, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) voted no.

There are those for whom politics is put aside in the interest of governing. That’s the Boehner, Ryan and Camp, er camp. For all his faults, Boehner has shown time and again (the near-grand bargains of 2011 and 2012 and the payroll tax cut of 2011) that he is willing to make uncomfortable decisions (read: govern) for the good of the country. And each time, Boehner was forced to back down by his raucous Republican caucus. (The current firestorm over shelving a vote on aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey and New York is a whole other mess.)

Boehner’s humiliation has been at the hands of his untrustworthy lieutenants Cantor and McCarthy. They occupy the wing of the caucus for whom politics seem to be the raison d’etre of its existence on Capitol Hill. Well, the nation can’t function much longer (if it’s functioning at all these days) if the likes of Cantor and McCarthy continue to ride herd on the realists within their party.

But there are glimmers of hope that maybe, just maybe, we might see a change in the ugly status quo. For the first time, Boehner allowed a bill to go to the floor that didn’t already have support of the majority of the majority and that passed with a majority of Democratic votes. The upcoming 113th Congress, with increased seats for Democrats in both chambers and the arrival of less strident Republicans, could portend the return of the art of compromise as the indispensable tool of governing. The impending fight over raising the debt ceiling will sorely test my rosy view of things to come.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.