Four (more) myths about House Republicans

October 7, 2013

National Review's Bob Costa -- the "it" reporter of this government shutdown -- wrote a piece for the Post's Outlook section detailing 5 myths about House Republicans.


US Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner (C), walks to a meeting of House Republicans on the fourth day of a partial federal government shutdown, on Capitol Hill in Washington DC, USA, 04 October 2013. EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

It's a great piece, providing some nuance to a group of politicians who, especially at the moment, are being broadly type-cast. But -- surprise, surprise -- we had a few more myths about the House GOP that Costa didn't touch on.

So, here are four more myths about House Republicans.

1. John Boehner is a moderate. This notion has gained credibility and credence in the conservative community over the first nine months of the year as Boehner has allowed the re-authorization of the Violence Against Women Act, relief dollars for Hurricane Sandy victims and the compromise to avert the fiscal cliff to pass the House with a minority of the GOP conference in support of them.

But, as we have detailed before in this space, there's little actual evidence that Boehner is a RINO (Republican In Name Only).  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.)

He's best described as a conservative with a pragmatic streak.

2. The GOP conference can be led. One of the central critiques of Boehner is that he never saw the revolt within his own ranks coming and he is now unwilling/unable to do anything about the 40-45 cast iron conservatives who oppose him at nearly every turn. That critique assumes that there was a path for Boehner -- or any other Republican -- to lead the 232 Republicans on a unified course. There wasn't/isn't.

Yes, Boehner (as well as the rest of his leadership team) clearly underestimated how far cast iron conservatives were willing to push against the party establishment. But, who might have understood that at the start of the 112th or 113th Congress? Certainly not Eric Cantor, the House Majority Leader, who has stumbled too when it comes to judging what his conference wants and/or is willing to put up with.  Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan? His credibility with fiscal conservatives would help (as would his national profile as the 2012 VP nominee) but does anyone believe Ryan could have talked Republicans off the political ledge of the government shutdown?

 3. The cast-iron conservatives are organized amongst themselves. Much like talk of "what the tea party had planned for the 2010 and 2012 elections", the idea that the rump group of cast-iron conservatives in the House are acting and strategizing as a bloc is a mistake. Instead they are, largely, a group of independent actors who, when they realize their interests dovetail, cooperate.

Remember back to the vote on Boehner as Speaker earlier this year. Any coordination among the unhappy elements within the GOP would have almost certainly pushed Boehner to a second ballot at which point all bets would have been off. Didn't happen.

What we've learned about this group of four dozen or so Republicans is that the only true organizing principle by which they operate is to stand against what their own party leadership wants. The idea that they are developing or executing a  strategy -- either in regards the shutdown or more broadly -- just hasn't been borne out.

 4. The majority of House Republicans are tea partiers/cast iron conservatives. Not even close. Check out this chart, which breaks down how the GOP conference split on seven major votes so far this year.

There are 101 Republicans who voted with Boehner on either all seven of those votes or on six of the seven; another 89 crossed Boehner on two of the seven. Add it up and you have 190 Republicans -- that's more than 80 percent of the overall conference.

Cast iron conservatives are a vocal group but the idea that they are the majority bloc of the House GOP is wrong.

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