The abrupt decision by John A. Boehner to step down as speaker of the House and resign his seat in Congress has elated the bitter-ender conservatives who have made his life miserable for virtually his entire tenure. But it’s bad news for those — including Republican members of Congress — who recognize that Boehner’s right-wing critics were living in a fantasy world.
In that parallel universe, the Republican majority could ignore the fact that a Democrat occupied the White House and that the rules of the Senate militated against them enacting their agenda of repealing Obamacare, reversing President Obama’s executive actions on immigration and, more recently, defunding Planned Parenthood.
But while the purist conservatives couldn’t work their will on national policy, they were often able to hamstring Boehner, a deal-maker forced to preside over a Republican caucus with a significant minority for whom compromise was anathema. As a result, the speaker was under constant pressure to limit the agenda to proposals that could pass with GOP votes alone – an approach that requires the support of 218 of the 246 House Republicans. That is a recipe for paralysis and poor governance.
Ironically, Boehner’s announcement Friday that he will step down at the end of October came just after he persuaded conservatives not to threaten to shut down the government unless Congress cut off Planned Parenthood funding. But in the longer term, the presence in the caucus of a vocal rejectionist wing threatens to perpetuate the dysfunction in Congress regardless of who is elected to succeed Boehner.
That is a problem for the country but also for the Republican Party as it prepares for the 2016 presidential election. As it is, the rise of the trash-talking Donald Trump has derailed the plan of party elders to project a more pragmatic and inclusive face to the national electorate.
We disagreed with Boehner on many issues, but he recognized that power is not absolute and that legislating in a divided government requires compromise and partial victories. It’s depressing that he felt it necessary to step down for the good of the institution he revered.