John A. Boehner’s surprise decision to quit as speaker of the House all but ensures that Congress will avert an immediate crisis — another government shutdown — but strengthens the renegade Republicans who helped topple him and brought turmoil to the establishment GOP.
In the halls of Congress and on the presidential campaign trail, the Republican Party is undergoing an ideological and practical revolt. The insurrection is driven partly by grass-roots activists angry at the failure of mainstream Republican leaders to thwart President Obama’s agenda, and partly by a fierce determination to redefine the party’s future.
In the near term, ironically, the power struggle will produce a political compromise that will show Washington still can function.
By announcing he will step down next month, Boehner sacrificed himself for institutional stability. Now he can ignore the hard-right caucus that wants to eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood and that is willing to shut the government down on Wednesday, for the second time since 2013, rather than give in.
Because Obama has vowed to veto any bill that cuts off money for the country’s largest family-planning provider, Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have few options except to reach across the aisle for Democratic votes to keep the government running, at least for a few months.
Congress will begin voting on that issue Monday. It’s the sort of bipartisan compromise that has always defined Washington’s ways — and that infuriates the GOP’s no-compromise wing.
Appearing Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” Boehner warned in biblical terms that his party is being influenced by “false prophets” who set unrealistic political expectations that no one can meet.
“There are people out there spreading noise about how much can get done,” Boehner said.
“We’ve got groups here in town, members of the House and Senate here in town, who whip people into a frenzy believing they can accomplish things that they know, they know, are never going to happen.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, who is expected to replace Boehner as speaker, is likely to face the same fractured party and sharp challenges.
Several dozen conservatives in Congress who had repeatedly sought to oust Boehner were emboldened by his decision to surrender rather than keep fighting.
Many are relative newcomers, elected in the 2010 midterm election and in 2012. They are convinced that Republican leaders have squandered their majority in Congress.
The most conservative faction calls itself the House Freedom Caucus and shares common cause with Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). Its members see validation in a presidential race in which Donald Trump, Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina — none of whom has held public office — are clobbering establishment favorites in the polls.
An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday shows the three outsiders together drawing a majority of GOP voters, leaving a dozen current and former governors, senators and other more experienced candidates — including Cruz — in the dust.
According to the poll, Trump’s support may have leveled off. But the celebrity billionaire remains effectively tied for the lead with neurosurgeon Ben Carson, at 21% and 20%, respectively. Fiorina, at 11%, shares third with Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, once a tea party favorite.
Boehner’s constant battle with party insurgents and his final fall from power showed that his style of negotiating deals to score incremental victories — “three yards and a cloud of dust,” as he put it Sunday, referring to the strategy of storied Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes — was no longer enough to satisfy the splintered party’s most conservative wing.
Carson said Sunday on CNN that Boehner is “a compromiser at a time when a lot of people on the right feel that too much compromise has already resulted in a situation that they’re not very happy with.”
Other Republicans say they are under pressure to cut federal funds for Planned Parenthood after secretly recorded videos showed organization officials talking about providing aborted fetuses for scientific and medical research.
Fiorina was among those who called for confronting Obama’s veto threats, even if it propelled the government into another shutdown crisis.
“I believe this is something we must stand up and fight for,” Fiorina said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
The anti-establishment anger was palpable this weekend at the Values Voters Summit, a gathering of social conservatives in Washington who showed little interest in Boehner’s way of doing business.
Bev Marinelli, a grandmother attending the event from Lumberton, N.J., said Boehner “never had the Trumpness to stand up to Obama and the administration.” Trump, she added, “says everything I’ve been feeling for years.”
When lawmakers return to the changed landscape Monday, the Senate will take steps to try to keep the government working.
McConnell has set a preliminary vote to fund the government through Dec. 11 without cuts to Planned Parenthood. The House is expected to follow suit in the days ahead.
Julian E. Zelizer, a history professor at Princeton University who writes extensively about U.S. politics, said the move should help avoid a government shutdown, and the Republicans avoid blame for it. In the 2013 confrontation, the party took heat for cutting services and furloughing workers.
But as has happened often, Congress will be pushing the problem down the road.
Another shutdown battle will loom when money runs out in December. Congress also will grapple with votes to raise the federal debt ceiling, renew expiring highway funds and other long-stalled issues.
Boehner suggested Sunday that he might reach across the aisle and try to clear a few legislative logjams before he steps down on Oct. 30.
“I don’t want to leave my successor a dirty barn,” he said. “I want to clean the barn up a little bit before the next person gets here.”
That would ease the recurring governing crises in Washington and probably make McCarthy’s job simpler. But it’s unlikely to heal the growing divide in the GOP.