Speaker Boehner’s Reagan conservatism wasn’t enough for today’s GOP

John Boehner is one happy man. Finally unleashed from the impossible demands of hotheaded and constitutionally-challenged members of his party, Speaker Boehner will leave office without the melodrama of a challenge to his office hanging over him and with confidence that government will not be shut down again under his watch. His departure from the speakership and the House is none too soon and probably a bit late, as he himself indicated. The failures of his speakership were not personal but driven by the radicalization of his party.

Ironically, his fellow Republican leaders are partly to blame. The “Young Guns” Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy and Paul Ryan encouraged the nascent Tea Party with their book in 2010, describing how the debt ceiling could be used as leverage to undo President Obama’s legislative achievements in 2009 and 2010. Ever since, Republican leaders in both the House and Senate have been over-promising what a Republican Congress could accomplish during divided party government.

Boehner is a Reagan conservative who has actually moved further to the right during his years in the House. But he is also a legislator who accepts the legitimacy of his political opposition and the importance of negotiation and compromise, and reveres the House as an institution. Both make him unsuitable to lead today’s Republican Party, which believes Democrats are the enemy, not the other party in government, and that the Congress is corrupt and feckless, as is government more broadly.

I can’t imagine whoever succeeds Boehner as Speaker doing any better at leading the hornet’s nest in the House. The chaos and dysfunctionality will continue until the Republican Party abandons its insurgency and once again aspires to pursue a conservative agenda within the framework of our Madisonian system.