With John Boehner’s resignation from the House leadership on Friday, the inner strife between the ultra-right-wing faction of the GOP and the Republican establishment, which has been brewing for years, may be set to erupt into a full-on civil war. The conservative faction -- led by popular senators like Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky, (along with groups like the Freedom Caucus) -- has celebrated the speaker's departure, while establishment types like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa., and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., have criticized these right-wingers as extreme and divisive.
Dent, who is an ally of Boehner, provided a surprisingly suiting analogy:
“Any jackass can kick down a barn door. It takes a carpenter to hang one. We need a few more carpenters around here. Everybody knows it.”
New York Rep. Peter King put it a bit more succinctly:
“I think [Boehner’s resignation] signals the crazies have taken over the party ... They’re not going to see it as a gesture of peace, they’re going to just look for more.”
You know there is trouble on the horizon when a Republican starts calling members of his own party “crazies” and “jackasses” -- even if those labels are perfectly appropriate. It seems the establishment Republicans are finally starting to understand what goes on in the minds of their extremist brethren. Individuals like Ted Cruz do not want compromise or peace, but destruction; that is, they want the government to fail. Dent believes the GOP needs more “carpenters,” but conservatives do not want to build; they are political terrorists, and their target is the government. These hard-liners have made Congress so dysfunctional over the past few years that the belief in government has hit all-time lows, especially when it comes to Congress itself.
The looming possibility of a government shutdown reveals this tactic. Even though there is no chance of defunding Planned Parenthood with Obama as president, conservatives are still fighting to do so. And yet, on Monday night, establishment Republicans finally did what was necessary, and shunned Ted Cruz after he tried to request a roll call in order to disrupt Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attempt to fund the government without defunding Planned Parenthood. After being denied, he desperately called for a voice vote, which resulted in his colleagues yelling a resounding “no.” The funding bill was advanced on a bipartisan vote, 77 to 19, and is awaiting vote in the House. Perhaps Boehner had to fall on his sword to avoid another shutdown, but the tensions are only set to grow worse.
The Republican primaries further expose how divided the Republican Party is, especially with the rise of an outsider like Donald Trump -- whose conservative values are questionable, to say the very least. As the National Review’s Charles Cooke put it on “Hannity,” there seems to be a kind of “collective insanity” that has taken over the conservative movement. Of course, when you look at how how fed up many conservative Americans are with Washington (in no small part because of the dysfunction that extremists have brought to Congress), the rise of Trump is not so surprising. Conservatives seem to forgive his advocacy of protectionism and his defense of Social Security and Medicare because he is an authentic and honest outsider. On Boehner’s resignation, Trump told the Daily Beast: “I think it’s wonderful, frankly, I think it’s good. It’s time. I think it’s time for somebody else to go in.” On whether Boehner was “sufficiently conservative,” Trump said, “I don’t think so, personally” (which is funny coming from a pseudo-conservative like himself).
The leadership election will come in the next few weeks, and moderate Republicans seem to be ready for war. “Frankly, I thought our leadership in too many cases has been too accommodating, too quick to appease those who will not govern," said Rep. Charlie Dent. "That’s going to end. We’ve had enough of that." Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., had a similar view: “You just can’t continue to have a super-ultra-minority continue to try to dictate what happens in the House of Representatives. It’s a big problem.”
Apparently the moderate Republicans have had enough of their colleagues' non-governing. But these colleagues will not be backing down any time soon, and the rise of outsiders in the GOP primaries signals an anti-establishment movement that will only grow.
With all of this infighting and dysfunction, you’d expect liberals to be thrilled -- but they shouldn’t be. Even accounting for all of his faults -- and there are many -- John Boehner has at the very least been rational and pragmatic over his run. While looking at his voting record and various ratings by political groups, it is clear that he is a right-winger if there ever was one. The difference between him and Ted Cruz is not so much ideology, but sensibility. Boehner is a politician, Cruz is an extremist.
The front-runner for speakership is Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who, like Boehner, is a relatively sensible right-winger -- but certain news outlets have reported that conservatives are ready to stand in his way if he does not cooperate with them. Whoever does end up succeeding Boehner as speaker is in store for further division and dysfunction, and if moderate Republicans (that is, Republicans who would have been considered extreme a few decades ago) do not stand up and fight these right-wing bullies, and even more important, if voters do not reject this extremism in 2016, America is in store for a whole lot of pain.