While exiting the Presidential race, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker called on others to step aside and allow the field to narrow. Sometimes, the best thing a leader can do is step away and let someone else step forward. While I doubt many Presidential contenders will be heeding Walker’s call, I hope Speaker John Boehner does. The time has come for Boehner to go.
Once again, we stand at the precipice of a government shutdown (a mere nine days away), and Boehner seems paralyzed, unable to find a compromise that could appease his conservative critics while netting Obama’s signature. This is a situation Republicans repeatedly find themselves in as deadlines approach—forced to fold at the last moment or risk politically unpopular shutdowns instead of crafting some sort of tenable strategy. Now in many ways, I feel sympathy for Boehner. There is a group of around 30 uncompromising republicans (known as the Freedom Caucus), constantly causing him problems. He is then forced to grovel for Democrats’ vote to pass bills the President will sign. It truly is an unenviable job. However, it is a job best suited for someone else.
For a leader to be effective, he or she needs buy-in from the troops. A great plan only works when those who have to execute on it believe in it. Great leaders from Churchill to Patton to Martin Luther King earned and built respect, loyalty and trust amongst their soldiers, citizens, and followers. Without that, even the most well thought-out plans are doomed to failure. This is where the rationale for a continued Boehner speakership collapses. Boehner does not face an ideological deficit; he lacks trust, primarily over tactics. Boehner has a history of being opposed to abortion and Planned Parenthood, of opposing Obamacare (those who doubt his conviction should re-watch his moving speech opposing passage as Minority Leadership), and supporting fiscal sanity.
Boehner wants to separate the Planned Parenthood funding issue from keeping the government open, and Freedom Caucus members recognize that once separated out, President Obama will veto an effort to defund Planned Parenthood if the Senate is able to move on it (unlikely). By the same token, attach it to a continuing resolution, and Senate democrats or Obama again block it, shutting down the government. In reality, the Democrats are responsible for shutting down the government to keep open an organization in the business of brutally ending the lives of potential human beings to sell the body parts for profit. However, the media will blame republicans—that is unfair but is the reality of the world we live in. Plus given our push for smaller government, shutdowns (which are politically unpopular) tend to be blamed on republicans by voters. Heading into a critical election year, the GOP cannot afford too much of a hit to its brand and will be forced to cave, reopening the government and funding Planned Parenthood after a few days or weeks.
This is the problem of the Boehner speakership. He says the right things but is unable to accomplish almost anything. After winning re-election in 2012, Obama had no incentive to work with republicans. It has left me wondering what the point of winning control of Congress was. Since 2013, has Boehner been able to push through a single significant conservative priority? No. Anything would be vetoed by Obama, even after republicans retook the Senate. Seemingly, the only value in controlling congress is blocking Obama from doing bad stuff, but as showcased by the enactment of the Iran deal, Republicans don’t even wield that power particularly well!
Now, some conservatives can be guilty of over-promising; for instance, it was disingenuous of Senator Cruz to argue that shutting down the government would lead to the repeal of Obamacare. No President is going to repeal their signature law. However, Boehner has been unable to craft a strategy to net any major victories. His ineptitude has cost him the trust of several dozen members, and with the House GOP divided, there is even less leverage when dealing with Obama.
Fighting over government shutdowns is risky business, and conservatives should focus their battles elsewhere. Controlling congress can limit the damage an incompetent President can do, but when he is unwilling to compromise, congress alone cannot accomplish much. This reality underpins how critical the 2016 election is; to achieve conservative objectives and not merely block liberal ones, we need to win back the White House. Election pledges that all we needed was a Republican congress to reset the course of the nation have been proven patently false.
As such, John Boehner has lost the confidence of many members and the public. Since Obama’s reelection, he has been unable to achieve any meaningful goals and has been consistently outmaneuvered by democrats, leaving the party only days away from government-funding deadlines. Rather than trying to craft an intelligent alternative (ie suspend the $528 million in PP funding pending an investigation of their activities and allocated $1.5 billion to responsible providers of women’s healthcare, thereby forcing Obama to turn down an extra billion if he wants to support this horrible organization), he has left the party in a no-win situation: either be blamed for a government shutdown and eventually cave or fund Planned Parenthood.
It is time for Boehner to do the right thing for party and country and step aside. The House could pass a short-term (3 month) continuing resolution and find a Speaker whom both conservatives and moderates can trust to act principally with strategies that can actually deliver small victories (conservatives need to be realistic about the chance for major policy victories in the final year of Obama’s Presidency). I would suggest someone like Paul Ryan or Tom Price with conservative credibility, gravitas, and an ability to keep the House operating. We need a leader that members can trust; members like Ryan and Price have already earned that trust unlike Boehner. Switching leaders would go a long way towards reunifying the Republican caucus.
John Boehner has served his country well and should be respected for his service, but now is the time for new blood. He has failed to deliver any conservative victories, has a mixed record in terms of blocking Obama’s agenda, has lost credibility amongst a growing portion of the caucus, and has failed to devise any strategy to get things done without butting against politically unfriendly deadlines. Having to scrounge for Democratic votes is not a plausible strategy for the next 16 months. Instead, we need a Speaker whom conservatives can trust to employ the proper tactics and still keep the House in order. Boehner is no longer that Speaker. It is time for a fresh face.