Instead, Boehner is struggling to balance his right flank’s appetite for brinkmanship with his desire to cut a deal that’s palatable to conservatives. To do that, he frequently shies away from publicly conceding any ground. But he and the Republican leadership aren’t eager to be blamed for economic chaos and risk their party’s House majority in next year’s midterms.
So don’t read too much into the fight-till-the-death posturing of the House’s debt-limit warriors. They have influence but not total say. Look for smaller clues — Boehner’s closed-door meetings, the chatter about a larger fiscal package — as evidence of how the impasse will probably end: with an eleventh-hour, smaller compromise that Boehner has been slowly but surely shepherding.
2. Ted Cruz is directing the House GOP’s strategy.
The Republican senator from Texas gained headlines recently for a story that was first reported by National Review: He was secretly meeting with House conservatives and urging them to oppose the leadership. Soon after, media outlets started to proclaim Cruz, a freshman and conservative star, as the unofficial speaker of the House — and the one player whom Boehner had to appease or else risk losing conservative favor.
Of course, “Cruz as speaker” was a dramatic spin by reporters. But for a moment, it had a ring of truth: Cruz’s House allies challenged Boehner in those morning strategy meetings, and the speaker subsequently followed Cruz’s direction, from championing the “defund Obamacare” effort to holding firm in his negotiations with Democrats. Cruz, for his part, seemed to relish the attention. As the buzz grew, he happily acknowledged in interviews that he was, indeed, pressuring the House leadership.
But Cruz’s moment as Republican conductor was fleeting, and his power over the House’s rabble-rousers has dimmed. He still keeps in touch with them, but he has retreated to his comfort zone: the outside game. Boehner’s allies worry that Cruz might suddenly decide to reenter the House fray, but for now, he’s working more with conservative groups than with House members.
3. Boehner is powerless.
The House speaker has endured an arduous post-election period, going back to late December, when his strategy for solving the “fiscal cliff,” the infamous “Plan B,” failed to gain traction in the House Republican conference. In a memorable moment, Boehner, nearly in tears, conceded defeat and pulled Plan B from the floor. A few weeks later, there was an embarrassing coup attempt in which about a dozen Republicans broke ranks. Ever since, Boehner’s grip on his conference has been threatened by 30 to 40 House conservatives who don’t trust his instincts and ignore his direction.