Apparently there are now two groups of Republicans in the House. First, there’s a group of firebrand conservatives headed by Eric Cantor, which, as near as I can tell, is mostly dedicated to finding slightly more slippery language to sell its usual right-wing agenda of school vouchers, block granting Medicaid, increased tax credits, and gutting labor laws. Second, there’s a group of insane, frothing-at-the-mouth conservatives who think of Cantor as Nancy Pelosi’s lapdog and are basically uninterested in anything other than repealing Obamacare, slashing taxes even more, ending the welfare state, and making speeches about how Obama is destroying America. It’s quite a little group that John Boehner has up there.
And yet: Boehner has somehow managed to get through more than two years without a real meltdown. Oh, sure, House Republicans are desperately unpopular, but what do you expect when 1) they’re in Congress, and Congress is always unpopular, and 2) they are almost exclusively focused on satisfying their most extreme constituents in order to avoid getting the dreaded RINO label and then having to face an unpredictable primary.
In the 112th Congress, in 2011 and 2012, Boehner dealt with it by allowing lots of bills and amendments to come to the floor. Many of them were nutty, but given the large Republican majority it was possible to pass lots of them anyway. Unfortunately for him, that strategy doesn’t work any more in the current Congress, with its smaller GOP majority, and so Boehner is basically just giving up on normal legislation.
The real trick, however, is to get through “must pass” legislation without a self-destructive train wreck. It’s not easy at all, since for anything to be enacted into law it has to get Barack Obama’s signature, and for many — dozens, perhaps — of his Republican members that’s pretty much a deal breaker. And yet, so far at least, Boehner has survived numerous deadlines without a government shutdown, a government default (despite one close call) or any other full-on disaster that would really get the general public engaged and angry with Republicans.
One thing that does help Boehner is that no one wants the job under these conditions; a conservative coup led by Majority Leader Eric Cantor could probably have succeeded at several points over the last two years, but Cantor would then find himself in exactly the same place as Boehner — those must-pass bills, after all, still would need to pass, and they still would need majority support in the Democratic Senate and they would still need Barack Obama’s signature, which would still mean that most of his conference would oppose anything that could pass and blame the Speaker for supporting it.
Overall, however, Boehner has probably done about as well a job as anyone could given the circumstances. Unless, that is, there’s someone out there who could fix the broken Republican Party. But that’s probably beyond the ability of anyone, including any possible Speaker of the House.