Misfire on Speaker Challenge

A conservative challenge to Speaker Boehner is an understandable impulse by those who feel the urgency of the problems facing America. House conservatives would desperately like to get stronger, wiser opposition to the Democrats into the Speaker’s chair. Understandable, but I have yet to see any convincing argument that this impulse is a good political strategy. Conservatives need to understand that Boehner is a symptom of the problem more than he is the problem himself. Boehner is the latest figure to sit atop the dominant power structure of the Republican party that we refer to as the establishment. If some kind of long shot a conservative challenge managed to gain enough votes to knock off Boehner the result would not be a conservative wielding the gavel. Boehner would simply be replaced by another establishment figurehead. We have a very recent example of this outcome when former Majority Leader Cantor lost his election. The establishment didn’t capitulate and put conservatives into leadership; the establishment moved up the next figurehead into position and continued business as usual.

If conservatives want to affect how leadership operates it’s more important to change the incentives and influences that leadership responds to. It’s also more important to make the conservative group of Republican members a majority of the House rather than the vocal minority that they are today. Expending great energy on exchanging one establishment politician for another is a waste of time and self-defeating because it encourages the establishment to stiffen their opposition to their own conservative wing.

The beneficiaries of this futile infighting is the Democrats. Republicans will be weakening themselves, distracting themselves, and alienating the very Republican members of the House who need to be building up their influence to shape the Republican conference’s strategy. An ineffective conservative assault on leadership risks tearing down conservative influence and relegating conservatives in the House to little more than loud powerless backbenchers. I’d rather have House conservatives dial back their attacks on leadership a couple of notches and have their ideas considered rather than launch this effort, which has virtually no chance of success, and have their ideas dismissed out of hand simply because conservatives are the ones offering those ideas. Conservative members of Congress are a precious resource; we shouldn’t waste their credibility on any project that doesn’t have a great chance of advancing the conservative agenda.