John Boehner is resigning. At this point, no one is surprised and everyone who’s anyone this side of the Beltway has been quoted on their opinion of his decision and its consequences, including many prominent Republicans. Marco Rubio has thrown in his two cents: the video of his disciples rejoicing at the news of Boehner’s resignation doesn’t just show the satisfaction of Rubio’s followers with the news, but echoes the sentiments of Republicans all over the country. The majority of Republicans seem to embrace the idea of new leadership: a poll taken by the Wall Street Journal and NBC before Boehner’s announcement states that 72% of Republican primary voters “were dissatisfied with the ability of Mr. Boehner and GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnellto achieve Republican goals.”
For once, the Republican masses are perfectly justified in their dissatisfaction. Boehner leaves an undistinguished career. He was a speaker whose most memorable actions were aimed at gaining political points rather than passing substantive legislation or fostering a semblance of productive discourse. His unproductivity was demonstrated through his attempts to not only sue the president but also defund the Affordable Care Act when there were new and more productive bills to bring to the floor.The arguments against Boehner within his party focus on bad leadership or his appeasement of democratic policies, while in reality Boehner has been trying to appease the extreme right-wingers of the party. It looks as if this strategy has officially backfired as more extreme Republicans are the most vocal in their satisfaction of his resignation.
The climate of discussion in the media has already jumped to the question of succession. Boehner’s right hand man and House majority leader Kevin McCarthy has been quoted as giving the proper eulogy to Boehner’s career as Speaker while simultaneously positioning himself to take the helm. McCarthy, a more radicalist version of Boehner even more intent on destroying any democratic agenda, is at the center as one of two House members to announce their candidacy.
Before turning to analyze the possibility of who is going to be the next Speaker, however, presidential candidates are using Speaker Boehner’s resignation as an attention-getting talking point. Senator Ted Cruz, a vocal critic of Boehner, declared that Boehner is going to use the next month until he leaves the House to ally himself with President Obama and carry out a democratic agenda. Cruz is trying to sell that Boehner, a staunch party man and critic of all things Obama, is allying himself with the Democrats. While before these statements Cruz was ranked low in the polls when compared to candidates such as Donald Trump and Jeb Bush, he was recently given the top spot in Fox News’ GOP Power Index, which looks at factors such as funding and ability to stay in the presidential race, boosting his popularity by several points almost instantaneously. By capitalizing on the Speaker’s resignation and spreading nonsensical soundbites, Cruz’s name is now prominent in every news cycle.
Although his suggestion that Boehner is suddenly a Democrat’s champion seems ludicrous, it reflects the scariest of the Republican Party’s discontent with Boehner as Speaker. Instead of addressing legitimate concerns with Boehner’s unproductivity and inability to compromise as House leader, Republicans are portraying him as not hard-line or Democrat-hating enough and pushing for a more radical replacement. Arguing that Boehner did not fight against President Obama hard enough or do enough to kill the Affordable Care Act does not just reflect the rantings of a Republican candidate for the presidency but reflects the opinions of a Republican base that has recently faced numerous defeats: the legalization of gay marriage, the passage of the Iran deal, the continuation of Obamacare, and continued federal funding for Planned Parenthood. Republicans are frustrated with a lack of progress, becoming less and less moderate and turning against the Speaker in the process. While many point to Ted Cruz as the fringe within the Republican Party, his comments on Speaker Boehner have hit a mainstream, and truly terrifying, nerve, revealing Republican desperation for a stronger and more extreme Republican party.