Boehner Still Controls The GOP (Updated)

by Jonathan Chait | July 29, 2011

Lots of reports seem to think last night's vote shows that John Boehner is losing "control of his caucus." That's not really correct. Boehner is commanding the votes of about 90% of his caucus. The problem is that, because he's following a GOP-only strategy, that recalcitrant 10% commands vast power and attention.

It's an interesting dynamic because partisan bills are utterly routine, but they usually have trouble in the center of the caucus, not on the extremes. You sometimes have one or two flaky radical members threatening to oppose a partisan bill because their holding out for an impossible, more radical alternative (think Dennis Kucinich on health care.) But they usually cave in the end because the recognize the obvious legislative dynamic. (As did Kucinich.) To have some dozen of the most extreme members of your caucus dissenting from a completely partisan bill is highly unusual.

Still, Boehner's problems with his ultra-crazy faction don't really tell us anything about the major strategic factors in play. The real question is what happens when Boehner ultimately has to forge a compromise with the president and the Senate. He's going to lose a lot more than 24 Republicans. The question will be whether he can still hold onto a majority of his caucus, or at least not so offend a majority of his caucus that he loses his job.

And "ultimately" could be Monday, it could be a December firelit meeting shivering by a fire of old furniture and books while nibbling on the last bit of the White House's canned food hoard, or sometime between.

Update: Here's another example of reporting that badly misdiagnoses the situation. Dan Balz writes in the Washington Post:

House Republicans have spent the past two weeks debating debt-ceiling proposals that have no possibility of becoming law at this time. What they discovered Thursday is that they couldn’t even get a majority of themselves to agree.

Not true. They have a majority of themselves to agree. What they lack is the requisite 90% of themselves. Balz continues:

The changes Boehner has been forced to make to his proposal probably will make it even more difficult for his rebellious colleagues to accept any compromise that comes over from the Senate.

The rebellious colleagues are not going to be voting for a compromise with the Senate. They don't need to. Their votes will be replaced with Democratic votes. Boehner's problem will not be with with two dozen most right-wing members of his caucus, but with the median members of his caucus, who will determine what kind of compromise Boehner can accept.

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/jonathan-chait/92908/boehner-still-controls-the-gop