If House Speaker John Boehner woke up this morning to National Review columnist Jim Geraghty’s Morning Jolt in his inbox, he opened 2015 in the most dispiriting way imaginable.
According to a new national survey of self-described GOP voters, commissioned by the People’s Poll, conducted by EMC Research, and supervised by Pat Caddell’s Caddell Associates, Boehner receives only lukewarm support from Republicans. What’s more, when asked if they would support him or another candidate for House Speaker, a majority said they would “probably” or “definitely” back a new figure.
Nine percent of self-identified Republicans and self-described independents who say they lean closer to Republicans say they feel “strongly favorable” about Boehner, and another 34 percent say “somewhat favorable.” Another 23 percent say they’re “somewhat unfavorable,” and another 11 percent say strongly unfavorable. An entire 11 percent say they’ve never heard of John Boehner.
Asked, “If it were up to you, would you elect John Boehner to continue as Speaker of the House or would you elect someone new?”, 11 percent of respondents said “definitely” Boehner, 15 percent said “probably,” 26 percent said “probably” someone new, and 34 percent said someone new, definitely.
Despite this vote of limited confidence, the majority of poll respondents also said that they trust Boehner to “fight for the issues that are most important to Republicans.” What’s more, Boehner is relatively well-liked. 43 percent have a favorable view of him while only 34 percent told this pollster they viewed him negatively. Make of these incongruities what you will.
Geraghty observed accurately that, despite this survey, Boehner is not going anywhere.
“You can’t beat something with nothing,” he wrote. “Replacing Boehner requires a rival that a majority of House Republicans will support – and while it’s understandable that other Republicans might want to hide their ambitions, eventually you need a figure to make this more than a theory or a dream. At this point the ‘rebellion’ against Boehner consists of 16 to 18 guys out of 247 House Republicans.”
This poll was conducted from December 26 to 30, and it almost entirely missed the dual scandals involving the Rep. Michael Grimm’s (R-NY) decision to resign from office and the revelation that House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) might have addressed a white nationalist conference in 2002. In both of those episodes, Boehner demonstrated his acumen as a politician and his command of the Republican Conference.
According to reports, Boehner may have personally pushed for Grimm to resign, a decision that only puts the Staten Island seat he will vacate in limited jeopardy and frees the House GOP of a problematic member who has pled guilty to a felony. In that same 48-hour period, Boehner stood by Scalise when it would have been easier to give in to those demanding his ouster. Given the increasingly questionable nature of the accusations against Scalise, Boehner’s move now looks prescient.
That said, it is unlikely that Boehner will be adorned with triumphal laurels for his work over the last several days. He only appears to garner the admiration of the party’s conservative wing when he surrenders the reins and, against the better judgment of many, consents to allow his ship to be gently guided into an iceberg.
Many conservatives were grateful when Boehner agreed to the demands of Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) loyal faction of House conservatives in the autumn of 2013, and disappointed when the government shutdown they precipitated ended on Boehner’s terms. Conservatives were equally frustrated with Boehner when the House did not pursue the constitutionally necessary but unpopular lawsuit against the president before the midterm elections. But now that the GOP has taken control of both chambers of Congress, that lawsuit will not only go forward but it will do so with representation from liberal constitutional law Professor Jonathan Turley.
Republican anxiety over whether Boehner will effectively oppose President Barack Obama’s executive amnesty are based in similar concerns over process. GOP opposition to Boehner in this case is founded in the belief that he will fail to advance the conservative position because he is selective about the ground upon which he chooses to make a stand. Those who claim this often ignore the coming budget fight, one endorsed by both chambers of Congress and ratified by the president, which ensures a debate over the Department of Homeland Security’s funding in February. Republicans would not be enjoying these and other victories if they favored an approach that elevates symbolism and martyrdom over maneuvering.
As a tactician, it is hard to argue the case that Boehner has been ineffective or short-sighted. At the risk of sounding heretical, the GOP base could do with a little bit more caution like that embraced by its current crop of House leaders. Boehner has often angered his right flank, and he may have been unnecessarily antagonistic at times, but he has also advanced the causes to which conservatives profess loyalty more than any overzealous inquisition against moderates ever will.