If nothing else, Alaskans’ interesting choice must now be keeping the Republican leadership awake at night: When faced with the reality of actual funding cuts, a year or two from now, might not other Republican voters suddenly feel they need someone like Murkowski? This must be a particular dilemma for the new Republican speaker, John Boehner. During his two-decade career as a Washington insider, Boehner has resembled Murkowski a lot more than Miller. As chairman of the House education committee, for example, one of his primary tasks was to entertain and indulge the companies that make hundreds of millions of dollars out of federally funded student-loan programs and who have been major donors to his campaigns.
At the same time, Boehner owes his new job to the anti-government rhetoric of candidates like Miller. So do many of his colleagues. Despite its profligate spending policies of the past decade, the Republican establishment attached itself to this year’s wave of anti-establishment resentment and must at least pay lip service to its goals. Poor Boehner must feel pulled in two directions, particularly because so many Republicans—and so many Americans—don’t practice what they preach. They want lower taxes, higher defense spending, more Social Security, and, yes, balanced budgets. They want the government to leave them alone, but at the same time, they aren’t averse to the odd federal subsidy. They like the way Miller talks, but in the end will they vote for Murkowski? Which path will Boehner follow?