the national interest

John Boehner May Save America After All

U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) listens during a media availability after a House Republican Conference meeting December 18, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Speaker Boehner announced that he is moving to a plan B to solve the fiscal cliff issue and he will put a bill on the floor that increases taxes for people whose incomes are more than one million dollars.
I don’t need this. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

John Boehner has sworn up and down that he is going to stay in his job as Speaker of the House past the 2014 elections. Jonathan Ward thinks John Boehner is lying. Based on discussions with “four top former Boehner aides, two current aides, five former leadership aides close to Boehner’s inner circle, and a GOP operative on familiar terms with his circle,” Ward concludes that Boehner is probably headed out the door after the midterm elections. This is possibly the most encouraging political news of the year.

The trouble in Washington is not so much Boehner himself, though he’s no prize, but Boehner’s desire to keep his job. A small minority of the most extreme Republicans in the House have managed to keep Boehner on a leash by threatening to depose him as Speaker if he displeases them. The Republicans hold a narrow enough majority that even an amateur-hour coup came within a handful of votes of deposing Boehner already. If Boehner wants to keep his job, he has to avoid displeasing his extremists, and his extremists are so detached from reality that they insist on wildly unrealistic demands on issues like the debt ceiling and Obamacare.

But if Boehner feels liberated to flee the House, then suddenly all sorts of governing possibilities open up. He can lift the debt ceiling and keep the government running. He could sign immigration reform, even cut a deal on the budget. There’s probably a majority in the House for all these things — it’s just a majority consisting mainly of Democrats along with a handful of Republicans. Boehner could use that majority and then ride off into the sunset to become a lobbyist, enjoy a huge raise, and play a lot more golf.

Usually we associate cashing in on K Street with selling out your principles. In this case, selling out would actually allow Boehner to fulfill his principles. (Or at least his instincts — “principles” may be giving him too much credit.) I’ve long argued that the fanaticism of the House GOP caucus makes it nearly impossible for Boehner to keep his job and avoid disaster. Avoiding disaster and getting a huge payday would make a lot of sense.

John Boehner May Save America After All