The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

John Boehner won reelection as Speaker today. But that’s not the whole story.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) was reelected as House speaker, after a group of hard-right conservatives tried and failed to deny him another term. (Video: AP)

In politics, there's only two outcomes: winning and losing.

By that standard, Tuesday was a very good day for John Boehner who won a third term as Speaker, winning 216 votes out of the 408 cast. (To be elected as speaker, Boehner only needed a simple majority of the members in attendance. Many Democrats were not at the vote as they were attending the funeral of the late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.)

As recently as six months ago, that prospect seemed extremely unlikely -- as tea party-aligned conservatives made Boehner's legislative life a living hell. (For the record, I was deeply skeptical that Boehner could find the votes he needed for another term as Speaker.) Boehner and his lieutenants deserve considerable credit for today's victory. Period. Full stop.

However (and, yes, there is always a "however") the vote for Speaker also revealed that the same factions and fractures that tripped up Boehner over the last four years are not only still present but present in larger numbers than ever before.

Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) was reelected to serve a third term as House speaker, but hard-right conservatives rallied in opposition. (Video: AP)

A total of 25 Republicans voted against Boehner, the largest revolt within a party in the Speaker's vote in more than 100 years.  The more-than-two-dozen Boehner defectors was more than double the number of Republicans who crossed him in the Speaker vote at the start of the 113th Congress; in fact, Florida Rep. Daniel Webster got as many votes himself on Tuesday (12) as were cast in total against Boehner at the start of the last Congress.

The who's who of the anti-Boehner crowd is filled with some longtime antagonists (Walter Jones Jr. of North Carolina Steve King of Iowa, Tim Huelskamp of Kansas) but was also peppered with some genuinely surprising names including noted moderates like Scott Rigell of Virginia and Chris Gibson of New York.

(Before I go any further, it is worth noting that, unlike in decades past, the vote for Speaker has become a decidedly political one -- often used by primary opponents in future elections as evidence of a lack of conservative/liberal/moderate bona fides.  Evidence of the politicization of the vote comes not only in some of the anti-Boehner votes but also from someone like Arizona Democratic Rep. Krysten Sinema, who voted for Rep. John Lewis rather than Rep. Nancy Pelosi for Speaker. Synema is weighing a run for Senate in 2016 and likely didn't want a vote for Pelosi on her record.)

Caveats aside, what's clear from that list of Boehner opponents is that even though he will operate with an increased majority in the 114th Congress, there's little reason to think the travails of the 113th won't be repeated again. If more than two dozen House Republicans are willing to stand up and voice their discontent with him in a vote that is almost certain to go his way, what will the prognosis be for Boehner when the legislative outcomes are less certain? (Worth noting: Several Boehner detractors who are likely to cause him agita in the coming weeks and months -- most notably Idaho Rep. Raul labrador -- voted FOR him as Speaker.)

If past is prologue -- and today's Speaker vote suggests it very likely is -- Boehner's next two years might well be as rocky as his last two as the leader of a GOP conference that, at least in parts, does not want to be led.

Of course, considering the alternative, Boehner has to look back on the vote as a success. Winning is a heck of a lot better than losing, after all.