Let’s be clear about one thing: John Boehner quit because he was going to get fired. It’s all fine and dandy to describe the Speaker as an “institutionalist” – a word we have not heard so frequently used since the Beltwaysplaining of Chief John Roberts – but if Boehner is, he was an institutionalist about to be rejected by the institution (or by the slimmest of chances, sustained as Speaker only by the good graces of the opposing party). Under Boehner’s leadership, the institutional standing of the Republican Congress has crumbled to record lows. He departs as the least popular Speaker in three decades. The idea that this approach was one designed to appeal to some higher purpose is simply laughable. One does not fall on a sword when your head is already in the guillotine.
That said, there is a logical basis for this move, and Boehner is not wrong to take it. By leaving in the manner that he is, Boehner avoids taking his friends down with him. The spilling of even more blood among Republican moderates – many of whom will be his future lobbying targets. Incumbents who were looking at certain primary challenges now have an out. How exactly is it selfless for Boehner to clear the path to dealmaking with the Democrats, protect moderate Republicans from having to defend it, and leave a terribly messy situation for Kevin McCarthy, his likely successor? Considering the rash of bad deals – likely worse than the one to be cut this week – that appear on the December horizon. Unfortunately for McCarthy, a temporary placeholder speakership might actually be more desirable than having the job for the next six months.
So whose fault is it that Boehner is out? The obvious culprits are the meddlesome Tea Party or the pro-lifers or those members actually pushing the motion to vacate. There is a more subtle case to be made that it’s the weak sisters in the Republican conference who, even on an issue as core to the party’s existence as life, remained dead-set against using the Constitutional power of the purse to eliminate a few hundred million in taxpayer funding for an organization engaged in profiting from death. But the person to blame for Boehner stepping down ought to be absolutely clear – the actual target of far more conservative frustration than John Boehner: Mitch McConnell.