Boehner's stalking horses don't have to be "viable" to win

Crossposted from BatesLine and updated.

Critics of the anti-[mc_name name=”Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)” chamber=”house” mcid=”B000589″ ] rebellion who say the announced challengers — [mc_name name=”Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX)” chamber=”house” mcid=”G000552″ ] of Texas and [mc_name name=”Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL)” chamber=”house” mcid=”Y000065″ ] of Florida — cannot win the speakership themselves are missing some historical perspective. Gohmert, Yoho and company can get what they seek — someone besides Boehner as speaker — without becoming speaker themselves. They don’t have to be viable alternatives. They are stalking horses.

The most famous example in recent history of this scenario was in the 1990 ouster of UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Despite leading the Conservatives to a landslide third general election victory in 1987, she was losing popularity over the “community charge” (the so-called “poll tax”), and pro-European-integration Tories saw an opportunity to take her down. Thatcher had handily defeated a challenge the previous year by a back-bench MP, but enough votes were cast against her to reveal some weakness.

In 1990, former cabinet member and rabid Europhile Michael Heseltine had no chance of being elected party leader, but he challenged Thatcher for the leadership as a stalking horse. Thatcher won a majority on the first round of balloting, but missed outright election under the rules by four votes, forcing a second round. Wounded by the sizeable minority opposed to her continuing as leader, Thatcher was persuaded by allies to withdraw, which opened the door for John Major to enter the race and win. Heseltine finished a distant second behind Major. Although Major was an ally of Thatcher, he was considered more conciliatory and more open to bringing Britain (disastrously) into the European exchange-rate mechanism. Thatcher’s enemies got their way, even though their initial challenger did not become prime minister.

The same scenario would likely play out if Boehner failed to get the majority on the first ballot. Unable to win a majority of the vote, he would have to withdraw, and the Republican caucus would have to find a candidate that everyone, especially the anti-Boehner rebels, would be willing to support. Candidates who would not challenge Boehner directly would now be free to enter the running. The resulting compromise candidate would likely be someone who supported Boehner in the first round but is seen by his colleagues as a stronger leader and negotiator.

One more point: Some commentators are saying that it’s pointless for Tea Party types to push for Boehner’s ouster, since his replacement is highly unlikely to be a passionate Tea Partier. That’s understood, but it would still be an improvement to have a Speaker who won’t give away his leverage and get nothing in return. It would be an improvement to have a speaker who isn’t plotting to push amnesty on his party’s caucus.