Published on TheHill.com on September 29, 2015
The conventional wisdom in Washington is wrong as usual. It says that Republicans need to look for a centrist Speaker who will be willing and able to cut deals with the president to show how the GOP is capable of governing.
But this approach is exactly wrong. A centrist Speaker would usher in an era of greater Republican disorganization and chaos.
The central problem Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) faced is that ever since his first days as leader, when he abandoned the party’s pledge to cut $100 billion from the budget, he has forfeited the trust of the conservative congressmen and -women who gave him his majority in the House. Without their trust, Boehner could never persuade the House conservatives that he had gotten the best deal possible from President Obama. They always had the sense that the president had somehow rolled the Speaker and refused to accept the half a loaf he was able to win.
Soon Boehner gave up even negotiating with Obama, because he knew that any deal would be dead on arrival in the Republican caucus. Obama stopped talking as well, and the politics of bone-on-bone confrontation ensued.
The key to restoring the normal process of governing-by-negotiating is to elect a Speaker who will enjoy the confidence of the party’s conservative caucus. If one of their own goes to meet with Obama and comes back with half a loaf, the caucus will be inclined to believe he did the best that could be done. With Boehner, they only snickered.
It will be impossible for the conservative caucus to believe that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) would be their best negotiator. If anything, most conservative members feel he is to the left of Boehner. In the case of the Ohio Speaker, while there was no suspicion that he was really a closet liberal, there was a feeling that he wasn’t up to the job of negotiating with Obama. But with McCarthy, many may wonder if his heart is in the right place to begin with.
Moderates among the House Republicans must realize one fundamental point: They would not be in the majority — nor can they stay there — without the strong support of the party’s conservative wing. It is these members who give the party its lease on chairmanships, leadership, perks and power. To continue to ignore them and belittle their insistent tactics would be to bite the hand that feeds the moderate Republican majority in the House.
There is a deep suspicion among the average Republican voter, who believes that the GOP keeps winning elections only to be sold out by the party leader who emerges from the process.
In 2010, Republicans took nearly 70 seats from the Democrats and elected Boehner as Speaker, only to be betrayed by him over and over — sometimes Boehner even tried to discipline those who were responsible for his election. In 2014, they gave McConnell his majority only to be ignored again.
These Republicans do not forget that Bush 41 gave them Justice David Souter and that Bush 43 put Justice John Roberts on the court — a move that allowed him to cast the deciding vote in favor of ObamaCare.
If the Republican leadership asks their rank and file to accept another go along, get along Speaker, they will reap the fruits in bitter primary challenges from the right, challenges that all the money in the world will not be enough to defeat.