John Boehner Exits, Donald Trump Storms On
ON Thursday, when John Boehner grew weepy in the presence of the pope, I assumed that we were seeing the tears of a proud Catholic.
On Friday, when he announced that he’d be resigning as the speaker of the House of Representatives and leaving Congress at the end of next month, I revised that view.
I think he was crying, at least in part, for the ill fortunes and uncertain future of his pathologically self-destructive party. It’s something that should have all of us sobbing.
Boehner’s looming departure and the rabid right-wing forces that led to it are part of a longer story, developing for years now. His exodus was foreshadowed and even foreordained by the political demise of Eric Cantor, who served under him as the House majority leader until someone more conservative toppled him in a Republican primary in 2014.
One of our two major political parties is hostage to an extreme subgroup that won’t brook compromise, values theatrical protests over actual governing and is adolescent in its ideological vanity.
Of course Boehner couldn’t last: He’s an adult. And as Donald Trump’s perverse currency and a Republican nominating contest that’s often indistinguishable from a temper tantrum demonstrate, the qualities of maturity, steadiness and prudence aren’t in especially big favor right now with an animated, engaged and frighteningly influential segment of the Republican electorate.
I’m not saying that the Republican Party alone has wing nuts, disrupters, brats. Too often that’s the impression left by journalists ruing the G.O.P.’s unruly ways.
But Democrats over recent years haven’t been bedeviled by internal dissent and rendered dysfunctional to the extent that Republicans have. They’ve kept something of a lid on things and maintained a semblance of order.
Not so with Republicans, who have become the party of brinkmanship, the party of imminent credit defaults, the party of threatened shutdowns, the party that won’t pass a proper transportation bill, the party that is suddenly demonizing the Export-Import Bank, the party of “no,” the party of ire, the party that casts even someone as unquestionably conservative as John Boehner in the role of apostate, simply because he knows the difference between fights that can be won and those that can’t, between standing on principle and shooting yourself in the foot.
“He’s somebody who understands that in government — in governance — you don’t get 100 percent of what you want,” President Obama said on Friday at the White House, reflecting on the fresh news that Boehner was leaving. “But you have to work with people who you disagree with, sometimes strongly, in order to do the people’s business.” Obama and Boehner were hardly a study in “Kumbaya” cooperation, but Obama seemed to sense that the song sung by whoever follows Boehner will be sourer and more strident.
Brace for it.
What an odd end to an extraordinary week, and not just because the pope addressed Congress — a history-making first — and pleaded for a spirit of collaboration, common purpose and amity, only for Boehner’s announcement to underscore how fugitive and far away that spirit remains.
Continue reading the main story
Continue reading the main story
It was unusual, too, because if the Republicans hadn’t been imploding, the conversation might well have been about the Democrats’ woes, or rather Hillary Clinton’s problems.
On Thursday, a national poll showed Clinton losing to Carly Fiorina, Ben Carson and Jeb Bush — but not to Donald Trump — in hypothetical matchups. A New Hampshire poll gave Bernie Sanders a sizable lead over Clinton in that state.
And with reports that the F.B.I. was successfully retrieving emails that had supposedly been wiped from her private server, it became clearer than ever that this particular chapter isn’t close to over. It seems almost inevitable that a few of these emails will contradict statements Clinton has made about what was and wasn’t erased and why. I don’t see her “honest and trustworthy” numbers rising anytime soon.
The Republican Party should have a fantastic shot in 2016 not just at the White House but at total control, because they’ll easily keep their gerrymandered House majority and can hope to preserve their advantage in the Senate. It would be their dream come true.
But the party’s most bellicose politicians and most cantankerous voters are doing their puerile best to dash it. The chasm between them and the party’s calmer types endures, and becomes starker, foiling the best-laid plans of the sober-minded realists.
REPUBLICANS were supposed to streamline their nominating process, but they have 15 candidates, and that’s down from 17 a month ago. Republicans were supposed to adopt a friendlier face to immigrants and a warmer embrace of diversity, but immigrant bashing and fear of Muslims have been dominant themes of the primary contest so far.
Republicans were supposed to show themselves to be grown-ups, but the current leader of the pack, Trump, does a dead-on impersonation of a defensive, insecure schoolyard bully.
And he warps the whole field of candidates, drawing others into ludicrous spats, yanking them toward stances they might not take so easily, turning the spectacle into a farce.
Democrats rejoice, which is understandable but shortsighted. Yes, complete Republican control of Washington isn’t in their interests, spells trouble on several policy fronts and could create a Supreme Court we’d be haunted by for a long time.
But what just happened in the House of Representatives is in nobody’sinterests, inasmuch as it portends squabbling and sclerosis as far as the eye can see, and inasmuch as it assures that the political conversation in this country isn’t going to ripen into anything more constructive and meaningful anytime soon.
During Boehner’s encounter with the pope, he reportedly agonized aloud over the neckwear he’d chosen, saying that he’d been inclined toward a blue tie but had listened to his staff and gone with green.
Pope Francis sought to reassure him, saying, through a translator, “Green is the color of hope.”
“We’ll need a lot of hope today,” Boehner responded.
I’m guessing that he had more on his mind than the pope’s imminent remarks to a fractious Congress.
I’m guessing that he was contemplating what would become of that Congress, and of his party, in the months to come.