Speaker of the House Jon Huntsman?!
Op-ed space in the Washington Post is a limited commodity, with far more experts with far more interesting ideas each day than slots for contributions. So, naturally, they turned to Norm Ornstein to produce the silliest possible column, “Look beyond the Capitol for the next speaker.”
It has been clear from the outset of the debate over the U.S. fiscal dilemma that, given the imperative of the no-tax pledge endorsed by 90 percent of House Republicans, no compromise would be achievable without the support of at least as many House Democrats as Republicans, and probably more.
Boehner’s dilemma is worsened by the fact that 50 or more House Republicans come from districts that are homogeneous echo chambers, made that way through redistricting and the “Big Sort” that has like-minded people living in close proximity to one another. None of them is threatened in a general election; all could be unseated in a contested primary.
With the Club for Growth and others putting million-dollar bounties on the heads of apostates who vote for any taxes, and with the conservative wind machine of talk radio having its effect, these lawmakers are immune from broader public pressure, the impact of a large election outcome or persuasion by their party leaders. For Boehner, fulfilling his constitutional responsibility as speaker of the House means getting the House to work its will, even if his party does not go along — but doing so imperils his speakership.
The best way out of this mess would be to find someone from outside the House to transcend the differences and alter the dysfunctional dynamic we are all enduring. Ideally, that individual would transcend politics and party — but after David Petraeus’s stumble, we don’t have many such candidates. It would have to be a partisan Republican.
One option would be Jon Huntsman. By any reasonable standard, he is a conservative Republican: As governor of Utah, he supported smaller government, lower taxes and balanced budgets, and he opted consistently for market-based solutions. As a presidential candidate, he supported positions that were in the wheelhouse of Ronald Reagan. But a Speaker Huntsman would look beyond party and provide a different kind of leadership. He would drive a hard bargain with the president but would aim for a broad majority from the center out, not from the right fringe in. He could not force legislation onto the floor, but he would have immense moral suasion.
Another option would be Mitch Daniels, the longtime governor of Indiana and a favorite on the right. Daniels has shown a remarkable ability to work with Democrats and Republicans, and he is a genuine fiscal conservative — meaning he does not worship at the shrine of tax cuts if they deepen deficits, and he would look for the kind of balanced approach to the fiscal problem put forward by Simpson-Bowles, Rivlin-Domenici and the Gang of Six.
You see what he did there?
The problem is that the Republican House has a tradition of only turning to Democratic votes when a majority of House Republicans are on board. And it’s next to impossible, because so many House Republicans are in seats gerrymandered to elect radicals, to get a majority of House Republicans to sign on to a measure that Democrats will support. The solution is to get those same radical House Republicans to elect as their leader a moderate from outside their ranks.
But, if the House Republican Caucus was so comprised that they could be persuaded to vote for a Jon Huntsman or a Mitch Daniels, the problem wouldn’t exist to need solving. It’s Catch-22!
For that matter, if replacing Boehner with a moderate Republican who could somehow galvanize the radicals to vote in such a way as to guarantee that they get primaried in two years were possible, it’s not at all clear why they’d need to take the Constitutionally-permissible-but-silly route of going outside the caucus to find him. Surely, there’s a moderate or three in the Caucus? There will, after all, be 234 Republicans in the 113th Congress; if only 50-odd of them are from radical districts, it stands to reason that 180-odd of them aren’t.