October 8, 2013
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio (J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press)

I highly recommend a Monkey Cage post from David Karol this morning that makes two important points: first, that the “moderate” Republicans who have said that they’re willing to vote for a clean continuing resolution are highly unlikely to support any of the procedural steps needed to get to that vote; and, second, pundits are too quick to personalize this with questions about House Speaker John Boehner.

Exactly right. It’s one thing for a group from the House majority to be willing to vote the other way on an issue; it’s quite another for it to take control of the House floor from its party and give it to the other party. If members of that group actually were moderates, or even liberal Republicans, some of them might be tempted to consider a longer-term alliance with Democrats or even a party switch. Right now, all we have is those Republicans who know that they’re eventually going to have to vote for something that Barack Obama can sign admitting that they’ll do it. The question has been whether they’ll be joined by others who still might hope to avoid showing any public differences with the radical tea party faction, and so far it appears that’s not going to happen.

Or, to put it another way: the problem isn’t the handful of moderates. The problem isn’t even, as Karol points out, the handful of radicals. The problem is the ‘fraidy cat group of mainstream conservatives who make up the bulk of the House Republican conference. By all accounts, the members of this group think that what they’re doing is a terrible idea, but they refuse to speak up against what they see as a doomed strategy.

The speaker is basically just following their instructions. That’s what speakers do. A speaker who defied the overwhelming bulk of his party wouldn’t stay speaker until the end of the day. The worst you can say about Boehner — and I think it’s fair to say it, at this point — is that he’s utterly failed to convince the members in the ‘fraidy cat group that they are worse off the longer this goes on — because eventually, they are going to have to settle for what the radicals will consider a sellout and a surrender, and they’re not going to be satisfied by anything that happens in the interim. From the outside, it’s very difficult to know whether the speaker fell down on that job or if he gave it his very best shot but just couldn’t get through the paranoia.

And make no mistake: It’s paranoia. Despite all the hype, members of the House hardly ever lose renomination, at least outside of redistricting cycles (and we’re years away from one of those). Yes, there was Bob Inglis, tea partied in 2010, but is that really worth what they’re doing right now? Sure — some paranoia about elections is actually a very useful thing in a democracy. But this goes way beyond healthy.

At any rate, the key point is that the reason the government is closed, and the reason a debt-limit breach is very possible, is because mainstream House conservatives who believe these things are a terrible idea are refusing to do anything about it.