House Speaker John Boehner (R) was narrowly re-elected on Jan. 3 to lead the 113th Congress. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
A House Republican conference on the brink of revolt a few days ago handily re-elected John Boehner to be their leader today, and from one perspective, that's a curiosity. What have Republicans won with Boehner as their leader? Not a popularity contest. Not the budget battle. Not much leverage to use in further fights with President Obama. He is not a party leader who is universally beloved by the GOP think tank/talk radio activist class (although GOP leaders rarely are). He is not even someone (unlike Speaker Dennis Hastert) who refused to bring a bill to the floor unless it had the majority of the majority (i.e, a majority of Republicans) supporting it.
For one thing: Who else is there?
Eric Cantor: He is not as beloved a figure in the conference as the media might seem to think. His loyalty to Boehner is in question, and Boehner is the one who has a much defter and more fatherly touch with members.
Paul Ryan? He's a loyal soldier and doesn't want to be speaker.
But the real reason is that, for all the complaints about the end result of the first part of the fiscal cliff deal, Republicans got the sense that Boehner had their back. He tried to get an unpopular "plan B" measure to come to the floor, at great risk to his credibility as a negotiator, so his members could go on the record against tax hikes. They give him a lot of credit for trying. Boehner also gets credit for standing firm during the first round of budget negotiations, walking away from a proposal that would have raised taxes and withstanding the significant pressure put upon him by the White House.
Among serving GOPers, there is no confusion about the significance of the challenge facing the party, and in Boehner, they've got someone they can trust. Since party leaders have so much power, that relationship is perhaps the most significant one in Washington.
I anticipate this obvious objection: But Boehner caved on taxes. He didn't. The party did, and he helped make sure that cave-in was as narrow as possible.
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