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This is something that should not slip by lightly. The video above is of a roomful of Republican voters interrupting the speech of a Republican Senator and presidential candidate with a standing ovation at the news that the Republican House Speaker has been forced to resign. It is hard to watch this outburst of joyful anger (or angry joy?) without wondering: what in the world is going on with the Republican party? Why would news of the humiliating resignation of John Boehner spark an immediate Republican celebration?
Mr. Boehner certainly was unpopular with his own Republican voters. The day of his resignation a WSJ/NBC poll found that "some 72% of Republican primary voters said they were dissatisfied with the ability of Mr. Boehner and GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell to achieve Republican goals." But that phrase -- failure "to achieve Republican goals" -- is remarkable. As a very good "Abbreviated Pundit Round-up" details today, John Boehner and the Republicans overall never had the votes to impose Republican policies. As Phillip Bump notes, the only "compromises" Boehner made "have been between reality and fantasy."
Indeed, it is notable that when conservative writer Erick Erickson writes a column titled "Why John Boehner Had To Go," he can't actually name or describe anything Boehner did wrong -- only arguing vaguely and nonsensically that Boehner (somehow) held his own Republican party "in contempt."
When forced to explain this supposed "contempt," numerous Republicans (even presidential candidates) list not only Boehner's (non-existent) failure to stop Obamacare, but also his supposed enabling of Obamacare. As Mike Huckabee explained, "When people sent [Republicans] here, they didn't send them to give the president more power on Obamacare[.]" Think about that: after total legislative obstruction, a government shut-down, more than 50 votes to repeal Obamacare, an ensuing presidential election, two Supreme Court lawsuits, and other pending litigation -- Republicans are livid with the belief that John Boehner has worked with the President to strengthen Obamacare.
No sane political observer could think that. So, what gives? As Jonathan Chait explains, we are witnessing a sort of collective Republican denial where they cannot accept that they are not the ruling party, not the "deciders" (to use a former president's phrase):
"To understand the pressures that brought about Boehner's demise as an ideological split badly misconstrues the situation. The small band of right-wing noisemakers in the House who made Boehner's existence a living hell could not identify any important substantive disagreements with the object of their wrath. ... The source of the disagreement was tactical, not philosophical. Boehner's tormentors refused to accept the limits of his political power....What is important here is not that Republicans object to the limits of their power, but that Republicans apparently cannot accept that such limits even exist. Greg Sargent recently caught this in a very revealing FOX News poll:
"This discontent runs much deeper and wider than Boehner. ... Boehner had the misfortune of leading, or attempting to lead, his party in an era when it had run up to the limits of crazy, where the only unexplored frontiers of extremism lay beyond the reach of its Constitutional powers."
"[Republicans] failed to block Obama's transformation of the country; that must be because they didn't even try, so they must be complicit. But this failure, too, is structural. Republicans don't have the votes to surmount Dem filibusters or Obama vetoes. The idea that this can be overcome through sheer force of will (the argument conservatives are making in favor of another shutdown fight) is just another version of [the "Big Lie"].You see? Lack of majority political power is not even a possibility. When, in the video above, Republican supporters jumped from their chairs at news of Boehner's resignation, it is because someone or something defective had to be blocking the Republicans' exercise of their undisputed authority. With Boehner gone, Republicans have something legitimate to celebrate in their minds -- the restoration of their thwarted authority.
"Indeed, the Fox News poll unwittingly captures what is particularly problematic about this last one. It finds that 60 percent of Republicans feel betrayed by their party, and that 66 percent of Republicans don't think their party did all it could to block Obama's agenda. The poll asks why respondents think their party leaders failed at this: they didn't really want to stop Obama; they weren't smart enough; they would rather fight each other. The Fox poll doesn't even offer respondents the option of choosing the real reason -- that Republicans structurally lack the votes!"
It sounds crazy, I know, but this represents the true "dark side" of Boehner's resignation: it is another significant step in the Republican party's shocking withdrawal from our system of democratic governance. Specifically, it presages a doubling-down of the Republicans' intentions to assert "negative control," where government shutdowns, hostage-taking, and (the immensely dangerous) debt-ceiling fights threaten to become more determinative than electoral outcomes and a functioning government. As one Republican writer put it, the emerging Republican belief is that threats of government destruction combined with the inherent rightness of Republican beliefs "could be so strong (as Ted Cruz was of his proposal to defund Obamacare) that Senate Democrats, the Obama White House and the mainstream media would, for once, finally, this time, cave in and let the House Republicans have their way." (And the use of the words "for once, finally" means "rightly," "appropriately," consistent with the "true" distribution of power.)
If anyone doubts that this is where we are increasingly headed, Steve Benen has a useful summary of the growing history of Republicans' "hostage governing":
* April 2011: House Republicans threaten a government shutdown unless Democrats accept GOP demands on spending cuts.
* July 2011: Republicans create the first-ever debt-ceiling crisis, threatening to default on the nation's debts unless Democrats accept GOP demands on spending cuts.
* September 2011: Republicans threaten another shutdown.
* April 2012: Republicans threaten another shutdown.
* December 2012: Republicans spend months refusing to negotiate in the lead up to the so-called "fiscal cliff."
* January 2013: Republicans raise the specter of another debt-ceiling crisis.