This week, House Republicans voted John Boehner in as Speaker of the House once again, but the election was not without considerable controversy. A growing number of conservatives feel that Boehner has failed them, drawing the GOP further and further to the left instead of standing up to President Obama’s liberal agenda. 20 Republicans voted against putting Boehner back in the role, the largest number of dissenting votes an incumbent speaker has ever survived.
While some have called for unity within the party, it must be said that Boehner has earned every bit of the dissension. This is not about tiny matters of policy, nor is it about a single failed initiative. This is about a four-year-long pattern of submission from one of the Republican party’s top leaders, and it is about nothing less than the direction of the party as we march towards the 2016 election.
Make no mistake about it, Republicans won in a decisive landslide last November on a wave of anti-Obama sentiment. Americans concerned about immigration, Obamacare, the economy, and national security expected Republicans to take a hard stance against the administration with their new power. Instead, the best GOP leadership can come up with are middling pokes and prods against the Affordable Care Act, symbolic votes against executive amnesty, and a promise to govern responsibly.
Many conservatives are left wondering why they bothered to go out and vote.
To be sure, there are political realities at play. Congress can only go so far without running into the inevitable veto pen of President Obama. Still, wouldn’t it make sense to push his issues as far off the table as possible? Force him to use his veto. Let America know that the GOP stands for the rule of law, a concept that has been thwarted at every turn by this administration. So what if Obama stands in the way? Let him take the “obstructionist” heat for once. If we had leaders who could argue the conservative cause articulately and passionately, ticking off the dangerous aspects of Obama’s policies would be enough to persuade independents that they have to go.
But Boehner and McConnell want to play it safe, hoping to set the stage for a Republican victory in 2016. They’ve bought into the mainstream media’s narrative that what Americans are really frustrated with is gridlock. How many Americans even understand the gridlock that has characterized this Congress for the last two years? What would they prefer? Why is it better to shove legislation through than to stand on principle? Why is it preferable to give Democrats their way than to fight for change? If the ultimate goal is just to “get stuff done,” why do elections matter at all? Why even have a Congress?
These are questions without any answer, because gridlock is a natural part of our two-party system. The only way around it is submission or dominance. Republicans think they can secure the latter in two years by practicing the former now. That’s a hell of a gamble, though; two years is a long time.