John Boehner is a conservative. So what do you call House Republicans opposing him?

September 12, 2013

This email from a reader arrived in the inbox of WaPo's Capitol Hill reporter Paul Kane this morning:

"At several points, today's front page story uses the word 'conservative' in an outdated manner that makes no sense. You set up the conflict within the Republican caucus as a debate between [House Speaker John] Boehner and 'conservatives.' Does that make Boehner a moderate or even a liberal? Under any reasonable definition, Boehner himself is beyond doubt a 'conservative.' The problem is that your lexicon lacks a term to describe the ultra-right Tea Party conservatives in the Republican caucus that first emerged three years ago. As a loyal reader, I strongly encourage you to press your editors to update your style guide to reflect this new political reality."

We've thought for some time that our long-leaned on definitions of the political ideologies of various subgroups within the Republican party have felt outdated -- particularly since the rise of the tea party in 2009.


Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, and GOP leaders talk to reporters following a Republican strategy session at the Capitol, in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

While determining Boehner's ideology since becoming Speaker is difficult -- Speakers of the House almost never vote on legislation -- a look back at his last year as Minority Leader in 2010 is telling.  In 2010, Boehner received a 100 percent conservative score from the American Conservative Union (and had a 94 percent lifetime score). That same year Boehner had a 100 percent rating from the conservative Club for Growth (and a 83 percent lifetime rating.)

So, describing Boehner as something short of "conservative" doesn't fit. But, that then raises another question: What do we call the 45 people who voted against Boehner on at least half of the seven critical votes flagged by the Washington Post so far this year?

The tendency is to describe this group as "tea party conservatives". But, that label seems inexact. We've already detailed the problem with using the word "conservative" to contrast this group with the Boehners and Cantors of the world. And, the word "tea party" was always something of a misnomer driven by the word "party"; the number of groups -- and belief systems -- that fall under the "tea party" label are so diverse as to render the term almost meaningless.

Look at the group of 45. It includes Members with a decided libertarian streak (Michigan's Justin Amash, Georgia's Paul Broun), freshmen Members (Oklahoma's Jim Bridenstine, Pennsylvania's Scott Perry) and veterans (Tennessee's John Duncan, North Carolina's Walter Jones Jr.) There's no obvious ideological/geographical/experiential tie that binds all 45 of these people together.

What then binds the group?  To our mind, it's a sort of anti-establishment mentality. That is, whatever their leadership wants, they don't want. For some, it's ideological. For others, it's political. For still others, it's personal.

All of which brings us to this simple question: What do we call this group?

While we understand asking this sort of question is catnip for partisans, we want real suggestions that reflect the mentality that this group of House Republicans have adopted. Partisan bomb throwing WILL be ignored. Serious suggestions welcome in the comments section below.

And also feel free to tweet your suggestions using the hashtag #FixLabels.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.
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Chris Cillizza · September 12, 2013