Boehner’s luck

BOEHNER’S LUCK…. The result was a foregone conclusion, but the House Republican caucus made it official this afternoon, choosing to keep House Minority Leader John Boehner (Ohio) as their leader. The vote count hasn’t been released, but he reportedly “handily defeated” challenger Rep. Dan Lungren (Calif.).

This wasn’t a surprise, but the decision is nevertheless odd. Indeed, Eve Fairbanks had a good piece this morning, explaining that the GOP support for Boehner “seems nothing short of crazy.”

In 1998, Newt Gingrich lost the GOP less than ten House seats and was promptly defenestrated. Boehner has not only presided over the loss of more than fifty seats for the party, but he also suffered a humiliating defection by rank-and-file conservatives on September’s bailout bill — a mutiny that I was certain, then, presaged a bigger challenge to his rule by young right-wingers after the election.

But no, House GOPers are taking Boehner back: It’s as though the captain of the Titanic survived and got tapped to run another transatlantic cruise.

I pretty much expected Boehner’s leadership role to be over after the October debacle on the Wall Street bailout. He helped negotiate the deal, urged his Republican members to follow his lead, and they blew him off entirely. Afterwards, Boehner blamed Speaker Pelosi for his own failure, saying she hurt GOP lawmakers’ feelings.

And yet, Boehner continues to thrive. How? Fairbanks took a closer look at how Boehner handled the bailout mess, and why it’s illustrative of his staying power.

Although Boehner technically backed the first, failed bailout bill, he artfully managed to appear to both support and oppose it at the same time. Boehner coined an instant anti-bailout rallying cry when he derided the bill as a “crap sandwich”; then, hours later, he minted himself a pro-bailout hero by hamming it up for the bill on the House floor, weeping and pleading, “What’s in the best interest of our country? Vote yes!” The Oscar-worthy performance left both moderates and right-wingers impressed. Pro-bailout pundit Norm Ornstein placed Boehner in the pantheon of politicians who “transcended the partisan divide … because they believed the country needed it,” while anti-bailout agitator Newt Gingrich marveled on cable TV that Boehner had enabled conservative opposition.

It’s a nice trick.

I still marvel at the history, though. Boehner was Majority Leader when his caucus lost 30 seats in 2006, and was Minority Leader when his party lost 24 more seats in 2008. When was the last time a party stuck with a leader after such devastating failures?