"The Collapse of Republican Institutional Power"

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) speaks at his news conference about the debt limit on Capitol Hill in Washington July 22, 2011. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the government shutdown over a law that was passed in 2010 was that many Republican lawmakers — including most likely House Speaker John Boehner — did not want it. Boehner is not an ideological bomb-thrower in the mold of Newt Gingrich, gleefully leading his troops into battle. It’s been clear all along that he is enabling the antics of the hard-right faction of his caucus somewhat reluctantly.

And some Republicans, like congressman Peter King of Long Island, have been very open with their frustrations. King, who calls the hard-liners in his caucus “crazies”,  has said publicly that if Boehner had allowed members to vote their consciences, there would have been a sufficient number of Republicans who would have voted with the Democratic minority to continue to fund government operations and avert the shutdown.

But Boehner chose not to, and so here we are.

The question is why? How did it come to the point where one faction is calling the shots over the rest?

Why can’t he summon some inner Frank Underwood.

This discussion between the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein and Robert Costa of the National Review does a good job of laying out the power dynamics within the Republican caucus and Boehner’s personal motives.

Here’s one exchange on the institutional changes that have contributed to a situation where the U.S. Congress lurching from one crisis to another:

EK: How much of this is a Boehner problem and how much of this is a House Republicans problem? Which is to say, if Boehner decided to retire tomorrow, is there another House Republican who has enough trust and allegiance in the conference that he or she could manage the institution more effectively? 

RC: What we’re seeing is the collapse of institutional Republican power. It’s not so much about Boehner. It’s things like the end of earmarks. They move away from Tom DeLay and they think they’re improving the House, but now they have nothing to offer their members. The outside groups don’t always move votes directly but they create an atmosphere of fear among the members. And so many of these members now live in the conservative world of talk radio and tea party conventions and Fox News invitations. And so the conservative strategy of the moment, no matter how unrealistic it might be, catches fire. The members begin to believe they can achieve things in divided government that most objective observers would believe is impossible. Leaders are dealing with these expectations that wouldn’t exist in a normal environment.

The whole thing is worth reading.