A terrible thought: What if he’s right? What if the bar set by his predecessors in Congress was so low that the Boehner era has actually raised it?

Don’t laugh, says James Antle. The man’s got a case. Yes, even against Newt Gingrich:

The Knack had one good album, the Gingrich Congress had two, maybe three good years. Only during 1995-96 did they seriously try to cut spending, including a plan to restrain the growth of Medicare spending (pushed by Kasich, who today as governor of Ohio is a leading Republican apologist for Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion).

In 1996, the Gingrichites finally passed a welfare reform bill President Clinton would sign. A year later they passed the first across-the-board federal tax cuts since the Reagan administration and the first balanced budget since 1969. They enacted a plan that, if followed, would have put farm subsidies on the glide path to elimination.

But it didn’t take long for this conservative leadership team to lose its edge, especially after losing the public relations war over the government shutdowns. Gingrich clashed with the Republican freshmen. Tom Coburn later wrote, “From the perspective of many members of the class of 1994, it was Gingrich who had drained the lifeblood from the Republican revolution with some of his political decisions.”…

Soon the Republican Congress was outspending Clinton on key domestic programs. Later it helped grow the Department of Education. Conservative Tom DeLay helped ram through the deficit-financed Medicare prescription-drug benefit and denied there was any more spending to cut, a budget “victory.”

Newt never had a death-defying standoff with Clinton over the debt ceiling like Boehner had with Obama in 2011, right? But then, if not for the big tea-party wave of 2010, would Boehner have gone through with that standoff at all? How would he behave as Speaker if left with a free hand, without duress from the conservative minority in his own caucus and a base that’s forever (and understandably) suspicious that Beltway Republicans have different priorities than they do? Certainly there would have been no shutdown last year; even some conservatives thought that was a silly, futile gambit by Cruz and his congressional allies, anti-establishment though it was. Certainly we’d have a deal by now on comprehensive immigration reform, a top establishment goal in both parties. Boehner’s own argument for his alleged anti-establishment cred is procedural apart from his point about earmarks. If that’s the bar for bold subversive conservative action in Washington, the bar really is awfully low.

Frankly, I’m surprised he’s keen to make this argument at all since it won’t rehabilitate his image with grassroots righties. Maybe it’s a concession to wider public opinion about D.C. Americans hate hate hate what Washington’s become, so if you’re a member of Congress, you’re duty-bound to say when asked that you oppose the Beltway establishment, yessirree. Good news for conservatives, though: If/when Jeb Bush is sworn in as our next president, you can count on Boehner to be a mighty anti-establishment rock against Jeb’s centrist tendencies. Right?