Speaker John Boehner’s departure marks another point political historians will look back on when conducting the postmortem autopsy of the Republican Party as we know it. Speaker Boehner represents a dying breed of Republican, the kind that could work across the aisle when needed but still managed to stick to the party’s favorite talking points enough to fend off credible challenges by primary candidates to their right.
Back when I was involved in Republican politics as a kid in the mid-1990s and met conservative figures like George Allen and Oliver North, the right-wing groups like HSLDA that we worked with were considered to be kooky – but they were tolerated and given token pieces of legislation in exchange for political and financial support. Of course, when you have a large family that relies on only one source of income, the financial support wasn’t easy to provide, but we made up for it with blind allegiance to the Republican Party instead.
That’s why I spent my birthday one year standing outside a polling place in the freezing rain with a sign supporting a local Virginia Republican who managed to eek out a win that day. Back then he was considered to be extremely conservative, but he managed to emerge victorious thanks to the demographics of the district he ran in. Today, Virginia state senator Emmett Hanger is viewed as a moderate Republican and has been attacked by Americans for Prosperity for his support for Medicaid expansion in Virginia – even though his record has been consistently conservative as long as he has been in office.
Like Emmett Hanger, Speaker John Boehner is more of a traditional conservative or “Country Club Republican”; conversely, many of the people seeking to replace him are what I like to call “Duck Dynasty Republicans.” These are politicians who pander to the lowest common political denominator on the right and use tactics like threatening to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood – or use racial dog whistles to score points with the base I used to belong to.
As Paul Rosenberg notes over at Salon, the GOP was once the party of Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Ike Eisenhower, but it sold its soul to the Southern Strategy after desegregation.
Before the GOP rose to prominence, the virulently anti-immigrant American Party, commonly known as the “Know-nothings,” were the most promising party to replace the Whigs. They won 51 House seat in 1854, while the Whigs were still on their last legs, before being eclipsed by the Republicans in 1856. When the Whigs collapsed, their remnants could have gone either way. One direction was anti-immigrant, the other was anti-slavery—although fretfully at first.
But the modern GOP has spent the last five decades courting those sentimentally opposed to its anti-slavery origins as “the Party of Lincoln,” and the last 10 years, at least, reviving the anti-immigrant sentiments on which the Know-nothings were founded. As confused as Boehner may be about his role, his responsibilities, his place in the order of things, it is only a small part of the much larger confusion that the GOP as a whole has been wallowing in for years—and, sadly, dragging the rest of America along with it. (Source)
Speaker John Boehner is no Tip O’Neill. Up until the time Republicans took over in 1994, despite their differences, Congress did not have the rabid partisan divide we are confronted with these days. The relentless march towards the fringe began decades ago and accelerated after the election of President Obama and the rise of the Tea Party. Once an easily-manipulated group that could be counted on for votes while establishment Republicans ran their own agenda, like the barbarians who were initially recruited as mercenaries to support the Roman army, the far-right has now toppled the Republican empire.
Until now, John Boehner was really the only half-sane Republican leader in Congress keeping the GOP from alienating even more voters and possibly turning control back over to Democrats. While he was certainly very conservative, I always felt like his heart wasn’t fully in the tone of messages posted to his Facebook page concerning Obamacare, Benghazi and other favorite issues of the Republican base. The angry and misspelled comments from right-wingers who lashed out at him for not pressing the Tea Party agenda hard enough for their liking were a great indication of the coming extremist tide he struggled to hold back.
Speaker John Boehner’s departure will now allow the fringe elements to finally take over, and hasten the demise of the GOP as a national party. It hasn’t been a question of if, but when, and now the Tea Party will likely have full control of Congress – and they’re already targeting Mitch McConnell in the Senate as their next victim.
To paraphrase my friend who owns the Facebook page The Skeptical Beard, John Boehner was all of the following:
The fact that today’s Republican Party doesn’t think he’s conservative enough should scare the hell out of you.
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