Yes, it has always been pretty much a fait accompli that Boehner would be elected speaker. And yes, it looks like conservatives were unable to deny Boehner the victory on the first vote, although it was closer than I initially believed. That said, I think that both sides of this debate are wildly overreacting to what happened here. I think the anti-Boehner side is way too angry/disappointed, and the pro-Boehner side is way too smug and condescending to the anti-Boehner side.
The simple fact is that what happened today in the Speaker election is unprecedented in modern politics. Speakers of the House who gain seats do not face defections on this order, or anything even remotely like it. The fact that Boehner had 25 (at least) defections despite the absence of a credible challenger speaks volumes about the fact that the culture in the GOP Caucus is changing – even if it is changing slower than some would like to see it change.
Boehner came into this election hoping to show that he could squash dissent within the caucus and establish that he would not face further embarrassing revolts now that the GOP controls both chambers. What instead transpired is that Boehner was shown to be actually weaker than before, after he faced a near revolt following the 2012 elections.
Many of the people who swallowed a bitter pill and voted for Boehner out of political necessity or lack of credible alternative will nonetheless feel no qualms about abandoning him on big votes in light of the number of dissidents today. Boehner knows now that he starts with a very bare majority of House members who have faith in his leadership at all and that he failed to show strength as he intended to do today. This will have meaningful effects as he attempts to manage the caucus in the next two years, and will especially make him leery about disregarding conservative dissenters in favor of trying to secure swing Democrat votes.
Politics is a long game. The entirety of Washington, DC will not change overnight. But make no mistake that what happened today was an important shot across the bow. For those who are bitterly disappointed, keep up the good fight because the pressure clearly had an effect. And for those who would dismiss the sea change that is occurring in terms of GOP Congressional accountability, you do so at your peril.
Congratulations to Speaker Boehner. And remember that you’re being watched from both sides now.