John Boehner’s Kabuki Theater

Having followed an intriguing link to a Politico article on John Boehner’s imperiled speakership, I feel like I fell for some classic clickbait. There really isn’t much news there despite the authors interviewing “more than a dozen lawmakers and aides in direct contact with Boehner.”

It’s mostly just more of the same. As Boehner and his top strategists try to navigate the Tea Partification of the Republican Party, he constantly has to find ways to placate the mouth-foamers, and this results in one act of Kabuki Theater after another.

Take the defunding of Planned Parenthood.

Conservatives want this, but it isn’t possible to impose their will. Because it’s about funding in the federal budget, a refusal to appropriate money for Planned Parenthood will result in another government shutdown and the GOP will eventually have to relent and admit defeat.

Since this is as foreseeable as the Sun coming up in the East tomorrow morning, there’s no compelling reason for Boehner to stage the play at all. It will just upset everyone, from the moderate Republicans who support family planning and women’s health, to the agitated investor classes that don’t like needless uncertainty, to the people who need that funding to operate their clinics, to the people who rely on those clinics, to (finally) the conservatives who will experience another demoralizing loss in the end.

This is roughly like putting a firework in Boehner’s hand and asking him to light the fuse. If he tells you that it’s going to blow his hand off, you probably should listen. This is especially true because it will actually blow up in all the Republicans’ hands.

Meanwhile, while the play is still in Acts I, II and III, the eleventy billion presidential candidates will be going right along with it, egging on the gullible audience that doesn’t realize it’s watching something staged. And if any of them call John Boehner a coward or accuse him of duplicity or lack of sincerity or effectiveness, well, that’s also like predicting the eastern sunrise.

So, you might think that Boehner would have learned his lesson by now. You might think that he’s gotten beyond staging elaborate theatrical productions for no other purpose than to humor the Tea Baggers.

But he’s still worried about his gavel. Someone is bound to challenge him for it this fall, and his core group is no longer certain he can survive in an era of maximum Washington bashing. So, he’s getting conflicting advice.

GOP leaders privately call the demand to quash Planned Parenthood funding a pipe dream, since President Barack Obama would never go along. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who like Boehner is intent on avoiding a shutdown, said defunding the organization would have to wait until there’s a new president.

But House leadership, cognizant of the potential political fallout for the speaker, is split over how to handle the situation.

Some aides say Boehner should offer a separate bill to deny the family planning organization money, rather than try to do so through the overall budget. That would allow Republicans to have their say without wasting precious time on a futile effort that would tempt a shutdown, they argue.

But others say Boehner, as a show of good faith to conservatives, should at least wage the fight. They want him to propose a broader spending bill without money for Planned Parenthood, watch it stall in the Senate as it probably would — then go to Plan B.

Either way, though, Planned Parenthood is almost sure to get its money — and Boehner will be in the cross hairs.

Ah yes, Plan B.

John Boehner should avoid Plans B like the plague.

Because his Plans B are always his A plan dressed up as something else. All he gets from delaying the votes on his actual plan (until after he can have a big production for the satisfaction of his lunatics) is less trust and goodwill from everyone.

Because when Boehner humors his conservative base in their futile temper tantrums he does not satisfy them. He makes them think of him as exactly the kind of clueless loser that Donald Trump keeps talking about.

The Republican base is sick of empty promises and symbolic gestures. And this is why they’re not looking with fondness on any of the elected officials running for the presidency.

In fact, if any one of the eleventy billion candidates stood up and defended Boehner for not staging the Kabuki Theater of Planned Parenthood defunding, they’d immediately sag in the polls. And whomever comes up with the best insult of the Speaker will leap ahead faster than Trump did when he mocked John McCain for getting captured.

Lindsey Graham is polling at zero point zero percent, folks, and that’s about where the whole Republican Congress stands right now with their base.

Under the circumstances, I have to agree with Rep. Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia:

And, for the first time, many top aides and lawmakers in the House do not believe he will run for another term as House leader in 2017.

The Boehner era might be coming to an end, they say.

“That’s a personal decision he has to make. I don’t know why he would want to, personally,” said Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), when asked whether Boehner would run again. “But I do think that he feels, in his heart of hearts, he feels like he’s doing what’s best for this country — regardless of what the political consequences are. That says something about somebody.”

Speaker Boehner is in a no-win situation primarily because his party is in the process of coming apart at the seams. He can put on a production or refuse to waste everyone’s time, but he can’t get around the Planned Parenthood issue or the debt ceiling issue or the highway infrastructure issue or the Export-Import Bank issue. He’s going to be swept away by the same winds that are sweeping away the Establishment’s control of the presidential nominating process.

He’ll never survive, nor should he want to.

[Cross-posted at Progress Pond]

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.