What’s Boehner’s Path To Retirement?

Jonathan Chait leaps upon reports that John Boehner actually plans to retire after next year’s midterms to suggest that all sorts of wonderful things might be accomplished between now and then if the Orange Man no longer fears for his gavel:

[I]f Boehner feels liberated to flee the House, then suddenly all sorts of governing possibilities open up. He can lift the debt ceiling and keep the government running. He could sign immigration reform, even cut a deal on the budget. There’s probably a majority in the House for all these things — it’s just a majority consisting mainly of Democrats along with a handful of Republicans. Boehner could use that majority and then ride off into the sunset to become a lobbyist, enjoy a huge raise, and play a lot more golf.

It’s a nice scenario with a few flaws. First of all, House conservatives don’t have to formally depose Boehner as Speaker to tie his hands; they could, if Boehner goes rogue, essentially strip him of his power to manage legislation via a conference policy imposing the Hastert Rule. Second of all, the idea that the “Republican Establishment” will reward Boehner for stabbing House Republicans in the back with a cushy K Street job overstates internal GOP divisions and avoids the alternative scenario that Boehner plays ball with his Conference as it exists and gets his cushy post-Speaker job anyway. And third of all, much as we are used to thinking of Boehner as an essentially sane man chained to crazy people, it’s not as clear as Chait suggests that Boehner wants to do “the right thing” on immigration and fiscal issues. Best I can tell, Boehner’s most essential instincts are to survive, one step at a time, until the very next day.

An audacious coup-from-the-top against everything the GOP and the conservative movement have been preaching since Obama’s election in 2008 strikes me as far beyond the capacity or imagination of this very normal man. So it’s a welcome, sunny thought, but I wouldn’t bet a dime on it actually happening.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.