Inside The Ridiculous Attempted Coup Against John Boehner
National Review’s Robert Costa, who has as many good sources inside the House GOP Caucus as anyone I’ve been following these last few years, has a brief piece up about what really happened with that alleged, and ultimately failed, coup against Speaker of the House John Boehner:
It all started, as things tend to these days, on Twitter. Ron Meyer Jr., a 23-year-old conservative activist, started using a catchy hashtag — #FireBoehner — as he railed against Speaker John Boehner. The hashtag quickly became a pet project. All day, Meyer (@RonMeyerJr) would tweet links and snarky comments about the Ohio Republican, whom he calls “a member of the Beltway class.”
Meyer, however, has fewer than 2,000 followers, so the hashtag didn’t get much attention until his girlfriend, fellow activist Celia Bigelow (@CeliaBigelow), who has more than 9,000 followers, joined the #FireBoehner cause. Pretty soon, their boss noticed. Bigelow and Meyer both work for Americans Majority Action, a 501(c)(4) group, which is run by Ned Ryun, a longtime conservative organizer. He was impressed at how the hashtag had taken off.
Ryun encouraged Meyer to start making media appearances about their efforts. Meyer, a recent graduate of Principia College in Illinois, was eager to make the rounds, as was Bigelow, a recent graduate of Hillsdale College in Michigan. “That was a fun time,” Meyer recalls, in a phone interview. “It was all about questioning Boehner’s leadership. We didn’t think it’d suddenly get out of control.”
That was late December. Meyer and Bigelow started appearing on Cable TV and Talk Radio as media outlets, drowning the post-election/Holiday Season news glut were eager for something to cover other than the seemingly stagnant fiscal cliff negotiations. Then, things took an interesting turn:
A House member who noticed Meyer on television talking about his distaste for Boehner searched for Meyer’s contact information on Google. Meyer won’t divulge the member’s name, but I’ve confirmed with other sources that it was Jeff Landry, an outgoing member from Louisiana. Landry invited Meyer, whom he’d never met, to come discuss a plot against Boehner.
Landry blamed Boehner for ending his congressional career. Louisiana’s electoral map was redrawn so that Landry and Charles Boustany, a fellow House Republican, were forced to run against each other in a new district, and Landry suspected that Boehner quietly boosted Boustany, who is known to be an ally of the speaker’s.
As Landry stewed over his loss to Boehner’s friend, he argued, in talks with his colleagues, that Boehner was an enemy of tea-party activists and the conservative movement. A rebellion, Landry insisted, was necessary.
Meyer agreed, and he found himself swept into the tight-knit world of House conservatives. He kept in close touch with Landry, Landry’s close friend Representative Steve Southerland (R., Fla.), and other members of the Republican Study Committee. Members of Congress texted him and e-mailed him.
By late December, Landry and others began to push harder. Plan B, Boehner’s fiscal-cliff plan, had just failed. Conservatives were starting to think that their pipe dream was possible, especially when Eric Cantor, the majority leader, and Kevin McCarthy, the majority whip, broke with Boehner on the fiscal cliff. Maybe Cantor, the thinking went, could be nominated on a second ballot if Boehner failed to get a majority on the floor.
House insiders say Raul Labrador of Idaho, Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, Justin Amash of Michigan, and Tim Huelskamp of Kansas were also part of the plot.
That’s where things get even more interesting. Huelskamp was one of the four Members of Congress removed from their positions on key House Committees, ostensibly by Boehner and his allies, shortly after the November elections. The reasons for the removal depend on who you ask. If you ask Huelskamp, Amash, and the others that were kicked off their committees, it’s because they dared to defy the House GOP Leadership on fiscal issues. If you listen to reports that came out after this happened from inside the leadership, the dismissals had as much to do with the fact that the Members in question simply refused to do anything but use their Committee position to push their “all or nothing” position. Whatever the case, though, it left some bad blood between that wing of the House GOP and the leadership, bad blood that spilled over into both the vote on the Fiscal Cliff deal and Thursday’s vote for Speaker.
To believe Ryan and the others in the run-up to Thursday’s vote, Boehner was a doomed man. All they needed were 17 Republicans to either vote for another candidate or vote “Present” and the Speaker would have been denied a First Ballot victory, something that hasn’t happened in the House of Representatives since 1929 and which, they hoped, would have led to the emergence of another candidate. At the very leased, even if Boehner had managed to win on a subsequent ballot, it would have been a huge embarrassment for Boehner and would have significantly weakened his position as a representative of the House GOP in any future negotiations with the President. Indeed, it wouldn’t have been beyond the realm of possibility that we could have seen more than two ballots in the House as the GOP Caucus devolved in to chaos. Why any rational person would have wanted to inflict such an event on their party is really quite baffling.
In the end, the revolt failed but, as Politico reports, the people involved in it sure thought it was going to succeed:
The discontented Republicans who opposed Boehner on Thursday — people like 18-year veteran Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina — say that the number of Republicans willing to entertain a challenge to Boehner was actually closer to 20. If Boehner hadn’t made peace this week with the New Jersey and New York delegations over the Hurricane Sandy aid bill — which Boehner initially refused to bring up for a vote until publicly smacked by Gov. Chris Christie (R) and others — the speaker may have had an even bigger problem on his hands.
The problems were evident on the floor right before the roll-call to pick the speaker. Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had an animated conservation with Fincher, one of the names on Huelskamp’s whip list urging him to vote for Boehner. McCarthy’s lobbying worked and Fincher backed Boehner’s reelection.
Amash, a second-term libertarian lawmaker, was also trying to rally support against Boehner. He ended up voting for his colleague, Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho).
Amash — who was recently booted off the Budget Committee by the GOP leadership — said there were “more than a couple dozen members who openly expressed their discontent to having the speaker continue,” although only 12 were willing to publicly display that on the floor by opposing Boehner’s reelection.
There’s a very good reason for that, of course. If you’re going to engage in what is effectively a coup, you’d better be sure you succeed, otherwise you’re own position suddenly becomes far more precarious. This is what happened to the small band of conservative Republicans who tried to oust Newt Gingrich in favor of Dick Armey back in the summer of 1997. When they failed to succeed, they found themselves shut out of House business and Republican Party support for a long period of time that didn’t really end until Gingrich brought himself down shortly after the 1998 midterms. Boehner arguably isn’t in as strong a position as Gingrich was in the late 90’s, but he’s not without his strengths, and the fact that he was able to both keep his job and keep them off their committees is a demonstration of that. Now that they’ve challenged him and lost, they’d better be looking over their shoulders.
Indeed, the situation was stated quite well in this classic scene from The Wire: (NSFW Language Warning)