Conservatives make selling them out really easy

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio)

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) (Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

It’s not clear whether the conservative groups agitating for unreasonable demands in the budget showdowns simply misunderstand the negotiating situation — or if they don’t care at all about substance and are just interested in publicity and fundraising.

Either way: they’re making it really easy for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other mainstream conservative Republicans to sell them out.

First, their demand — an Obamacare repeal — is far more than Boehner can get. That, already, made it easy for Republican leaders from both chambers of Congress to dismiss it as a fantasy. But now conservative groups are actually running attack ads against Republicans, and calling the Affordable Care Act (ACA) “Boehnercare” because the speaker refuses to embark on a suicidal shutdown strategy. The slogan? “If he funds it, he will own it.”

But what Boehner knows is that, at the end of the day, he will “fund it” — that is, Republicans simply don’t have the leverage to force Democrats to surrender the ACA. He just has a choice of whether to do that before or after a shutdown that everyone believes would hurt Republicans far more than it would hurt the president.

So, really, what’s the point for him in trying to fight for anything, if the bottom line from these “conservatives” is that no matter what he (realistically) gets, he’ll emerge from the fight as responsible for the ACA as if he wrote it himself?

If Boehner is smart (and assuming he has no substantive preferences of his own!), he’ll realize that he’s going to take the same hit even if he fights on for months and maximizes what he can get given his position. The smart move, therefore? To fold early, and get it over with. With any luck, the people yelling about “Boehnercare” will find some other shiny object they can raise money from and forget all about this episode — but the longer it goes on, the more weeks he’ll have to endure the pounding.

Seriously. The best way for Boehner and the Republicans to get the best deal is probably to make sensible demands and then threaten a shutdown unless Democrats give in. But the best way right now for Boehner and the Republicans to personally survive the budget showdown with the least damage is probably a quick, complete, surrender — presumably by just passing (with mostly Democratic votes) whatever the Senate gives them.

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