But … maybe there’s a strategy here? Maybe? Dude?
In truth, Hensarling allies explain, he had been taking seriously the encouragement to run in November. But he needed to go through an exhaustive process—meeting with advisers and colleagues to discuss strategy, and more important, discussing the decision with his family. That process, Hensarling always thought, would not need to commence until late summer or early fall…
After close consultation with his family and friends last week, Hensarling surprised those close to him by suggesting that his obstacles—which they thought were prohibitive to his seeking a top leadership post—were overcome in the deliberation process…
[I]n fact, people close to him started reading between the lines of that statement—“not the right office at the right time”—and wondered if Hensarling was up to something. Maybe he didn’t want to challenge McCarthy for leader this week, they whispered, because his grand plan was to challenge Speaker John Boehner in November.
“I think he’s going to run in November,” a House Republican and longtime Hensarling ally said this week. “And if he runs, he runs for the top spot.”
Three possibilities. One: It’s true! We’re going to have an all-out brawl within the GOP for the future of the House in five months. If conservative voters turn out in droves in the midterms, maybe the establishmentarians backing Boehner will conclude that there’s no resisting the party’s ideological trend any longer. Better to bow to Hensarling, keep Kevin McCarthy in place as majority leader to be a moderating force on the leadership, and go from there. Okay, but … apart from notable tea-party wins over Cantor and, maybe, Thad Cochran, centrist Republicans actually did awfully well holding off conservative challengers this spring. Mitch McConnell, the right’s biggest target, won with ease. The establishment, backed by business money, is in no mood to make accommodations with the right at the moment, especially after the shutdown. (Remember this post, from the last time righties started whispering about knocking off Boehner?) This is not going to be a bloodless coup. And if there’s going to be a fight, it stands to reason that the guy who’s already banked 218 votes twice for Speaker has the advantage.
Two: The Speaker talk is a big fake-out from Hensarling fans. What he really wants is majority leader, but if his allies start whispering about challenging Boehner, maybe centrists will get nervous and try to accommodate him with a lesser position. As long as Boehner gets to decide what does and doesn’t reach the floor, establishmentarians may feel okay with replacing McCarthy with Hensarling as an olive branch to the right. The party needs to be unified for 2016, after all, and that would help do it. The problem is, Boehner’s allies in the House and their friends in the Chamber of Commerce absolutely insist on passing comprehensive immigration reform before 2016 and Hensarling could make that impossible as majority leader. Cooperation on that point may be their price for abandoning McCarthy. If Hensarling plays ball on some sort of amnesty, they’ll consider him. If not, war.
Three: This is all nonsense, pushed by tough-talking conservatives to try to scare Boehner into retiring but with nothing actually behind it. Like I say, they’ve cried wolf before in the name of impressing grassroots tea partiers. At what point do we stop believing them and start treating them like posturing blowhards? Philip Klein wonders:
The way things have gone in major legislative battles over the past several years (such as with the debt ceiling, government funding bills, and the “fiscal cliff” tax deal) is that House conservatives have consistently voted against compromises. This has led House leadership to cut deals that can pass the House with the help of Democratic support.
This dynamic has allowed House conservatives to maintain a ruse. They can go back to their constituents and perpetuate the myth of themselves as brave freedom fighters standing up for conservative principles against a wobbly GOP leadership that’s gone native in the Washington swamp. Meanwhile, because House leadership cut deals, House conservatives didn’t have to deal with the consequences of bond markets freaking out because Congress never raised the debt limit, or of a taxpayer backlash because rates went up on all income levels once all of the Bush tax cuts expired.
Conservative House members would no longer have it so easy if staunch conservatives were to seize control of House leadership. So, at the end of the day, they’re perfectly happy with the Boehner-McCarthy team.
Matt Lewis thinks conservatives won the war over Eric Cantor but “lost the peace” now that Kevin McCarthy’s replaced him, but Klein’s point is that they haven’t really lost. They like being out of power because it lets them maintain their purity while ensuring that the House doesn’t do anything too risky like hitting the debt ceiling. Is that what this latest Hensarling rumor is about — a cheap way to show righties that they’re super serious about taking Boehner out this time while knowing that they don’t have the numbers to beat him? And don’t really intend to try?