Despite objections from the far-right who refer to him as moderate or even liberal, John Boehner — the retiring Speaker of the House — is a conservative. In 2010, Boehner’s last year in Congress before ascending to a Speakership post that rarely votes on legislation, Boehner received a 100 percent conservative rating from both the American Conservative Union as well as the conservative Club for Growth; he boasts a 94 and 83 percent lifetime score from each respective organization. In an ironic twist, 2010 also happens to be the year that the ultra-conservative Tea Party caucus emerged in Congress and five years later this group leveraged their influence consolidated in the House Freedom Caucus to contribute to Boehner’s resignation. For the purpose of this article, the term ‘conservative’ will be used in reference to the ideology of Boehner and his allies, while ‘anti-establishment’ will denote the ultra-right wing of the Republican Party.
Republicanism in the American political system traditionally represents an ideology favoring smaller, more localized government with less spending. While Democrats surely deviate on this political philosophy, there is nothing inherently sinister about championing free-market economics and reduced budget deficits. However, the anti-establishment bloc of the GOP has co-opted the Republican Party to a point where traditionalism is no longer overtly apparent. They’ve instead replaced governing via negotiation and compromise with impractical, sectarian demands that discount rudimentary facts.
For some years now, anti-establishment members of Congress — members such as Ted Cruz, Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan and Mick Mulvaney — have used positions so far removed from the traditional political spectrum as a proxy for waging war against government control. The first example of this proxy war is demonstrated in the Republican opposition to the Affordable Care Act that resulted in the 2013 government shutdown. To be clear, questioning the potential effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act is squarely within the Republican mainstream. Shutting down the government over such a disagreement, however, is not.
In an August 2013 conference call with House Republicans, Boehner stressed that while his leadership team was committed to terminating the Affordable Care Act, Republicans should avoid a government shutdown over the issue, warning that such tactics would not succeed in derailing the legislation and fearing backlash similar to the repercussions the GOP faced after the 1995 government shutdown. Eventually, Boehner conceded to Senator Cruz and other anti-establishment figures, resulting in a two-week government shutdown that failed to affect the Affordable Care Act, but succeeded in eviscerating the Republican Party in public opinion polls. Boehner’s aforementioned cautions proved foreboding and illustrated that Boehner acknowledged political realities and limitations that certain Republicans refuse to accept.
The latest instance of this continuing proxy war is included in the opposition to Planned Parenthood funding. Anti-establishment Republicans seek to completely defund Planned Parenthood on the basis of falsified videos that incorrectly purport to display Planned Parenthood profiting from selling tissue from aborted fetuses. Again, pro-life sentiment is a staple of the Republican Party. But defunding a major provider of women’s healthcare over deception simply is not. Furthermore, Planned Parenthood is already restricted from using federal dollars to fund abortion programs.
Anti-establishment Republicans sought to defund Planned Parenthood in recent budget negotiations and demanded that any spending bill sent to President Barack Obama include such language. Supposed top-tier Republican Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina lied to the American people about the leaked Planned Parenthood videos during the second GOP debate and neglected to acknowledge her exaggerations on multiple occasions. Mick Mulvaney has been quoted saying, “Our leadership has probably one chance left to save the party, and it’s on Planned Parenthood.” So, apparently the only way leadership can redeem the party is to defund a women’s health organization — one that doesn’t even use federal money for abortions — on the basis of doctored ‘evidence’ and lies. What kind of party is that? It’s no wonder John Boehner resigned.
Boehner’s resignation effectively ends debate over whether Planned Parenthood will be defunded in the latest budget negotiations, as his political career is no longer hostage to the ultra-right wing of his party. But that’s exactly the point. In order to defund Planned Parenthood, a measure that will surely fail and objectively has no basis in truth, the anti-establishment wing was more than willing to push out their most powerful leader, a man consistently committed to the conservative cause and perhaps the only man capable of keeping the House from descending into complete chaos.
The polarization and divisiveness in Washington will only worsen with Boehner’s departure. Whoever replaces him — and the leading candidate to the Speakership is the incapable-of-speaking, flip-flopping Kevin McCarthy — will either face the same conservative versus anti-establishment problems as Boehner or will concede to the crazies of the House and begin to duke it out with the United States Senate and/or President of the United States. Good luck. Though the Senate is under Republican control, don’t expect that institution to be any more accepting of anti-establishment bombast. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already demonstrated his disdain for such tactics by stating, “I would remind all of your viewers: The way you make a law in this country, the Congress has to pass it and the president has to sign it. The president has made it very clear he’s not going to sign any bill that includes defunding of Planned Parenthood, so that’s another issue that awaits a new president hopefully with a different point of view about Planned Parenthood.”
By using ultra-right issues as proxies for the Republican fight against government power, the anti-establishment wing effectively renders the entire Republican Party useless. When negotiations are started by declaring that the President must defund women’s health care or face a government shutdown, there’s really no negotiation. Demanding does not equate with governing and refusing to concede to such demands does not make Speaker Boehner a liberal or President Obama a tyrant. Democrats didn’t agree with John Boehner on much, but he was genuinely a good man and a more than capable Speaker. We might not be able to say the same for his successor.