Boehner and the stalking horses

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Oklahoma 1st District Congressman Jim Bridenstine has reversed himself and announced his opposition to John Boehner's re-election as Speaker. But other Republicans are sticking with Bridenstine's earlier analysis that Boehner cannot be beat.

But critics of the anti-Boehner rebellion who say the announced challengers -- Louis Gohmert of Texas and Ted Yoho of Florida -- cannot win the speakership themselves are missing some historical perspective. Gohmert, Yoho and company can get what they seek -- someone besides Boehner as speaker -- without becoming speaker themselves. They don't have to be viable alternatives. They are stalking horses.

The most famous example in recent history of this scenario was in the 1990 ouster of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Despite leading the Conservatives to a landslide third general election victory in 1987, she was losing popularity over the "community charge" (the so-called "poll tax"), and pro-European-integration Tories saw an opportunity to take her down. Thatcher had handily defeated a challenge the previous year by a back-bench MP, but enough votes were cast against her to reveal some weakness.

In 1990, former cabinet member and rabid Europhile Michael Heseltine had no chance of being elected party leader, but he challenged Thatcher for the leadership as a stalking horse. Thatcher won a majority on the first round of balloting, but missed outright election under the rules by four votes, forcing a second round. Wounded by the sizeable minority opposed to her continuing as leader, Thatcher was persuaded by allies to withdraw, which opened the door for John Major to enter the race and win. Heseltine finished a distant second behind Major. Although Major was an ally of Thatcher, he was considered more conciliatory and more open to bringing Britain (disastrously) into the European exchange-rate mechanism. Thatcher's enemies got their way, even though their initial challenger did not become prime minister.

The same scenario would likely play out if Boehner failed to get the majority on the first ballot. Unable to win a majority of the vote, he would have to withdraw, and the Republican caucus would have to find a candidate that everyone, especially the anti-Boehner rebels, would be willing to support. The resulting compromise candidate would likely be someone who supported Boehner in the first round but is seen by his colleagues as a stronger leader and negotiator.

BACKGROUND:

The Washington Post is keeping a whip count.

The Daily Signal reports on the last time a Speaker election went beyond the first round and lists other notable challenges to official party nominees for Speaker:

The last time Congress failed to immediately elect a speaker of the House was 1923. Still chafing from the heavy-handed speakership of Joe Cannon, the progressive wing of the Republican Party forced nine ballots before allowing Frederick Gillet to become speaker in exchange for policy compromises.

Freedom Works explains why House Republicans should replace Boehner and lists Boehner's 10 worst votes as speaker.

Challenger Louis Gohmert gives Breitbart Texas a list of John Boehner's broken promises to conservative congressmen.

Erick Erickson says Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan is the man who could rally opposition and block Boehner. Will he be Horatius at the bridge? And Erickson calls out Republican freshmen who are backing away from their campaign pledges to oppose Boehner:

First, in the whirlwind of Washington you will often be pressured to just do something. That something is always constructed in a way to act as opposed to refrain from acting. Sometimes, however, not acting is a more powerful thing to do.

Second, remember that you are accountable to your constituents. You work for them, not the other way around. You are their employee and your job review comes up on a two year schedule in the House and a six year schedule in the Senate.

Third, and above all else, remember that there is a God and one day you will stand before Him. Long after the voters ceased assesses you, you will stand in judgment. This world will pass away, but what you do here will be measured on that last day. Eternal things matter most and selling your soul to Washington at the expense of God or your family will eventually catch up to you.

Pollster Pat Caddell says that his polling shows 60% of Republicans want a new Speaker and a third of Republicans are ready to bolt from the party, believing that the party leadership does not share their views and values.

Matt K. Lewis says you have to trade favors and build loyalty over a long period of time to be successful as an "insurgent." He points to the groundwork that Newt Gingrich laid for his rise to Minority Whip and then Speaker.

What is more, Gingrich began working with the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) in 1979 as part of an effort to take the majority, and later took over GOPAC. Both organizations were focused on helping elect new Members to Congress. This means that newly-elected Republicans would be indebted (and thus loyal) to Gingrich. Aside from his brilliance as a visionary thinker, Gingrich spent years assiduously cultivating support and planning for a majority.

Now ask yourself this: Is there a serious conservative House Member today who does so many favors for Republican candidates that they will be loyal to him when they are elected? By definition, the people interested in accumulating power -- and capable of pulling off this sort of logistical feat -- tend to be establishment types. It's tempting to say this is a Catch-22, but it doesn't have to be this way. As Morton Blackwell says, "You owe it to your philosophy to study how to win."

Nevertheless, there seems to be an inverse relationship between the ability to win a leadership position -- and one's commitment to ideological purity. Some of this is probably structural and self selecting, but I can't help lamenting the fact that the most charismatic and inspirational conservatives also tend to be among the least organized.

As a newly-sworn-in freshman in 2013, Bridenstine voted against Boehner and for then-Majority Leader, now ex-Congressman, Eric Cantor instead, one of 12 Republicans to vote for another candidate. Had four more Republicans joined them, Boehner would have been denied re-election on the first ballot.

But as recently as November 15, 2014, Bridenstine, who won re-election without any opposition from either party, announced in an op-ed that he would support Boehner for a third term as Speaker, seeing no practical way to stop his re-election after the caucus renominated him:

An effort to replace Speaker Boehner would require several steps, each offering very little chance of success. The first step would be to rally enough Republican dissenting votes to block a 50-percent-plus-l vote on the floor. The Republicans have a historically high 60-seat majority in the newly elected 114th Congress, possibly higher as midterm election vote counts continue. With this large of a majority, the probability of securing enough dissenting votes is remote, especially after a private nomination meeting.

If 30 or more Republicans voted for someone else and Speaker Boehner did not get a 50-percent-plus-l vote, a second private meeting of the Republican Conference would occur. At that meeting the dissenting members would have to withstand pressure from the balance of the Republican conference. The minority of Republicans would have to offer an alternative candidate who the majority of Republicans would accept. The probability that there would be 30 or more dissenters is virtually zero, and likewise the chance that the majority of Republicans would capitulate to the minority is near zero.

If the minority of the conference somehow prevailed, there would be another vote on the floor, again requiring a 50-percent-plus-1 majority. This time, members of the original majority would vote against the new Republican nominee to block the minority. The process would be in shambles, the public would be outraged, and Democrats would be strengthened. If this impossible scenario happened, it would be the worst outcome for those of us who have been fighting for the conservative movement.

My goal has always been to do what is right for our country, regardless of the political consequences. In my first term, with a smaller Republican majority, I voted against Speaker Boehner on the floor believing that we could deny him a 50-percent-plus-l majority. However, Rep. Boehner was elected as several potential dissenters succumbed to pressure. While that effort may have been the right move under a smaller Republican majority, it is not the right move under a larger majority.

In his January 2, 2015, press release, Bridenstine explains that Boehner's support for the CR/Omnibus cost him Bridenstine's vote:

Like President Obama, Speaker Boehner must have heard voices that didn't vote. Together they crafted the CR/Omnibus, a $1.1 trillion spending bill which funded the government for 10 months and blocked our newest elected Republicans from advancing conservative policy and delivering on campaign promises. With this vote, Republicans gave away the best tool available to rein in our liberal activist President: the power of the purse. The power of the purse is Congress' Constitutional strength.

For the next 10 months, the CR/Omnibus will fulfill Obama's ambition of creating an even larger constituency of dependency on Obamacare. The President's goal has always been to create as much dependency as possible before enforcing the destructive employer mandate. The CR/Omnibus hands the liberals that victory. This is unconscionable after watching the campaign rhetoric that won such decisive victories for the GOP....

The Constitution requires the President to faithfully execute the laws of the United States. He has refused to enforce the laws on border security, Obamacare, illicit drugs, and the release of detained terrorists. His activism in his last two years has accelerated to include executive amnesty, initiating international climate deals without a treaty, and establishing an embassy in Cuba without consulting Congress. When our Constitution is under assault and House Republicans give away our Constitutional power of the purse, they share the guilt of abandoning our founding principles.

(Bridenstine actually could have stopped the CR/Omnibus by voting against the rule to bring it to the floor, but rejected that tactic, thinking it unlikely to succeed. As it happened, one more vote against would have been sufficient to stop the bill.)

THE AFTERMATH:

Louis Gohmert's statement:

This was always about one thing -trying to have a Speaker who was sensitive to the will of the American voters. As I repeatedly made clear, this was never about one person.

We knew that if everyone were present, we needed 29 votes for anyone other than the current Speaker. If we achieved that, then either after the first ballot or second, we would have a conference of only Republican members of Congress to likely agree on a compromise candidate. The goal was to have a new Speaker with wisdom and honesty to lead the Congress. The fight does not end today. ...

After being told that we should now all come together and work together, we have been told late today that two of our Congressmen are being taken off of the committee they were on, simply for voting like their voters wanted. So, it appears before we can work together, we are now going to have another fight. It would be a shame if the Speaker of the House who has so much power is a sore winner."

Erick Erickson, a leading voice calling for Boehner's ouster urges grace toward those who voted for Boehner's re-election.

Leon H. Wolf urges conservatives to take heart:

The simple fact is that what happened today in the Speaker election is unprecedented in modern politics. Speakers of the House who gain seats do not face defections on this order, or anything even remotely like it. The fact that Boehner had 25 (at least) defections despite the absence of a credible challenger speaks volumes about the fact that the culture in the GOP Caucus is changing - even if it is changing slower than some would like to see it change.

I got some flak for pointing out that Bridenstine could have blocked the CR/Omnibus by voting against the rule to bring it to the floor -- he would have been the one-more-vote the opposition needed. It was suggested that noticing this is nitpicking his tactics when I should be applauding without reservation. But at the time, Erick Erickson and others believed the key vote was the vote against the rule. If the CR/Omnibus reached the floor it would pass, because it would receive enough Democrat votes to make up for any Republican defections. A Politico article about the revenge planned by Boehner and his lieutenants against GOP dissidents appears to confirm the substantive importance of the vote on the rule:

The House Republican leadership is carefully reviewing the list of members who voted against the speaker and those who opposed a procedural motion in December on the so-called "crominibus," the $1.1 trillion spending package to keep the government open through to September. Top Republican sources suggested that the process could take months to unfold.

While I applaud Bridenstine's leadership in the attempt to defeat Boehner, his decision not to use the power in his hand to block CR/Omnibus was a surprising move toward pragmatism over principle, as was his decision back in November to support Boehner as the GOP caucus's nominee for speaker. When a planet wobbles, astronomers look for an object exerting gravitational pull. Whose pull made Jim Bridenstine wobble?

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on January 5, 2015 10:29 PM.

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