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Why House conservatives will never topple John Boehner
Reason number one: They are terrible at this whole politics thing
 
Seriously, guys?!
Seriously, guys?! (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

House conservatives are apparently plotting another coup attempt against Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). Though it doesn't appear to be as fumble-fingered as their awesomely incompetent 2013 attempt, the campaign still bears many hallmarks of the reactionary wing's style of politicking, the foremost of which is an amazing inability to connect means and ends.

Here's Tim Alberta:

...in discreet dinners at the Capitol Hill Club and in winding, hypothetical-laced email chains, they're trying to figure out what to do about it. Some say it's enough to coalesce behind — and start whipping votes for — a single conservative leadership candidate. Others want to cut a deal with Majority Leader Eric Cantor: We'll back you for speaker if you promise to bring aboard a conservative lieutenant.

But there's a more audacious option on the table, according to conservatives involved in the deliberations. They say between 40 and 50 members have already committed verbally to electing a new speaker. If those numbers hold, organizers say, they could force Boehner to step aside as speaker in late November, when the incoming GOP conference meets for the first time, by showing him that he won't have the votes to be re-elected in January. [National Journal]

They're having a little trouble recruiting, though:

Organizers are actively recruiting two highly respected conservatives — Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Jim Jordan of Ohio — hoping that one will agree to lead their opposition movement. But both have told colleagues they aren't interested. And the other frequently discussed scenarios, such as [Republican Study Committee] Chairman Steve Scalise running for whip, would hardly qualify as the splash conservatives are determined to make.

The attempted overthrow in 2013 failed in part because conservatives didn't have an alternative candidate for on-the-fence Republicans to rally around. Now, with each passing day, organizers fear history could repeat itself. [National Journal]

This, of course, is Boehner's ace in the hole. Anyone credible and ambitious enough to become speaker also realizes that taking the job would be a horrible mistake. Why? Because House ultraconservatives are constantly making completely unreasonable demands, then blaming the leadership when they don't get the impossible.

Notice that the report contains almost no specifics about what the ultras want to actually do. They're mad at Cantor for passing a "doc fix" bill by voice vote — a routine measure that in the pre-Tea Party days used to pass without a fuss — but they don't outline what they would have done themselves. If history is any guide, they would have demanded something so cartoonishly extreme that it could never possibly pass the Senate or be signed by the president, then voted against it anyway for not being extreme enough.

Why pass a doomed-to-fail bill anyway? To "send a message," or something, which is why the House has passed 50 pointless repeals of ObamaCare.

Indeed, the hapless campaign to oust Boehner reeks of a politics obsessed with slights and symbolism. This obsession to the almost total exclusion of a substantive agenda has become the signature trait of House ultras, which means the leadership has no choice but to treat them like cake-addled five-year-olds.

To be fair, the ultras have gotten quite a bit of what they say they want. But their aggression has also repeatedly come back to bite them. Twice in a row they've choked away control of the Senate by letting bug-eyed weirdos win state primaries. And lack of unity seriously undermines what power they do have, and has made Boehner possibly the weakest speaker of the House in American history.

The truth is that Boehner is probably the best speaker the ultras could reasonably ask for: he's willing to indulge them to a seriously irresponsible degree, but not so much that they actually cause crippling damage to the nation. A true believer at the helm might actually allow the ultras to, say, default on the national debt for no reason. And that would keep them out of power for a long time.

 
Ryan Cooper is a national correspondent at TheWeek.com. His work has appeared in the Washington Monthly, The New Republic, and the Washington Post.

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