Two weeks ago, in a mildly prescient post, we discussed the brewing revolt against John Boehner and the toxic contribution of Donald Trump. (Blog No. 77. Embattled John Boehner: The Oozlum Caucus and the Trumpian Virus.) With the announcement by John Boehner that he will retire at the end of October, the Oozlum Caucus (aka the Freedom Caucus and the Tea Party Caucus) have clearly achieved a victory. The extent of their triumph is yet to be determined but the prospect for responsible governance in the House of Representatives is not encouraging.
As we observed in our earlier post:
Although we have sometimes been critical of both John Boehner and Mitch McConnell, and have disagreed on various issues, we believe that on the whole both have performed responsibly and sometimes creatively, sometimes valiantly, in carrying out their difficult assignments.
We reiterate that assessment today. John Boehner is a patriot and a skilled legislative leader who will be missed more than many may realize. We hope that Boehner’s successor will be able to muster at least as much wit and courage as Boehner has.
Boehner’s most likely successor is the Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, athough, as a close associate of Boehner, he may face an Oozlum challenge of his own. There may also be a scramble for other positions in the GOP leadership structure in the House (Majority Leader, Majority Whip, Republican Conference Chair). However all that shakes out, the leverage of the Oozlums, and the threat of government shutdowns is likely to increase. In the short run, the threat of a shutdown over Planned Parenthood funding may have been reduced because Boehner, with his Speakership no longer in play, may feel free to pass a “clean” Continuing Resolution with largely Democratic votes. Nevertheless, the reliable bugaboo of the right, a debt ceiling increase, will probably have to be confronted before the end of the year and then, here we go again.
In its most recent issue, The Economist aptly described the Oozlum (our term, not theirs) behavior. Although their comments were focused on the prospect of a shutdown over Planned Parenthood, they are equally applicable to the debt ceiling and other issues that will strike the Oozlums as opportunities to flex their muscles:
To understand why some people are incapable of learning from their mistakes, neuroscientists in Albuquerque, New Mexico, scanned the brains of 96 convicts. In repeat offenders, they discovered, an obscure quarter of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex was barely active. It would be interesting to carry out the experiment on the 40-odd Republican congressmen, members of the self-styled Freedom Caucus, who are aching for a fight with Barack Obama over the budget. If they have their way, past fights suggest, the result will be a funding crisis leading, from October 1st, to the closure of all non-essential government departments, misery for millions, damage to the economy and a further loss of trust in America’s democratic institutions, starting with the congressmen’s own party.
Since it would clearly be impractical to insist on anterior cingulate cortex transplants for forty congressmen, other remedies will have to be sought. In our earlier post we made a suggestion:
We believe that it is past time for the Republican “establishment,” and particularly its members who are significant donors, to be heard from in a way that will be heard and felt. One way comes quickly to mind. We are, for better or worse, in an era of PACs and we can think of at least two that we would like to see created. One would be to support Boehner and McConnell and to provide support for qualified primary opponents to take on those who consistently fight against their leadership.
Let us now narrow the focus a bit. Ever since the decision in Citizens United, political leaders and pundits on the left have lamented that loosening restrictions on campaign contributions gave wealthy donors control over the political process. We have been skeptical of that claim, but there could hardly be a better time to put it to a test. Although we do not happen to be personally acquainted with any major donors, we are confident that the vast majority do not appreciate the economic costs and instability associated with government shutdowns. Specifically, we suggest that every Republican who votes for a shutdown should become the presumptive target of a primary challenge. Such challenges would be funded by a PAC created by wealthy donors who have risen from their lounge chairs and opened their wallets to bring some order to our disheveled party.
After all, the threat of primary challenges is a technique that has been effectively employed by the NRA to fend off gun control, and by the Club for Growth to punish any one heretical enough to vote for the smallest kind of tax increase. Now is the time to put it to a more constructive use.
As a final thought, we believe that our party should give serious consideration to asking John Boehner to become a candidate for Vice President on the 2016 ticket. We we believe that he would be an invaluable source of advice and support for a Republican president.