Speaker of the House Jon Huntsman?!

Norm Ornstein may have written the sillest op-ed of 2012.


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.”

The problem?

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 solution?

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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Mark Ivey says:

    First i wanna watch Boehner fall on his sword for the über rich, then Huntsman can have a shot..

  2. superdestroyer says:

    I better argue you be to put someone in the Speaker position who is actually capable of understanding and articulating conservative positions. The Republicans were idiots when they have a hack like Hastert as Speaker and they continued the stupidity by having a hack like Boehner is mainly interested in pork barrel spending and ear marks.

    Boehner’s problem is that he keeps saying that the U.S. is broke but then never offers a single spending cut that would have a long term effect on the deficit or the long term debt.

  3. Tsar Nicholas says:

    You think that’s silliness? Meh. An airheaded paper publishing an airheaded column is par for the course.

    What’s really silly is that WaPo still is in business and that it still has investors holding and even buying its common stock.

    Back in late-2000, before (gulp) George W. Bush became president, WaPo’s stock traded around $600 per share. Now? It trades around $360 per share. And that’s despite the raging bull market over the past 3.5 + years. Think about that for a few moments.

  4. Are we sure this column wasn’t written by Doug Schoen and Pat Caddell? Because it sounds as silly as their “Hillary should replace Barack on the ticket” columns from 2011 and 2012.

    Though Constitutionally permissible, we have never had a Speaker of the House from outside Congress for a very good reason. Because, in our system, such a person would be completely powerless and at the complete mercy of the House Majority Leader. The UK’s Speaker of Parliament is essentially outside politics, but their role is essentially to manage debate in the body and nothing more. The American Speaker has far different duties and, indeed, is presently in the line of succession to the Presidency.

  5. CSK says:

    What Ornstein suggests is indeed silly, but less silly than the suggestion that Sarah Palin be made Speaker, which I’ve heard proposed.

  6. Liberty60 says:

    Norm Ornstein is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

    I may have identified the problem here.

    Here, allow me to edit this properly;

    Norm Ornstein is a resident scholar unpaid writer at the American Enterprise Institute Onion.

  7. NickTamere says:

    What’s really silly is that WaPo still is in business

    That silly Washington Post, still staying afloat in a recession. Why can’t they be more like the Washington Times?

    “The Washington Times has lost money every year that it has been in business. By 2002, the Unification Church had spent about $1.7 billion subsidizing the Times. In 2003, The New Yorker reported that a billion dollars had been spent since the paper’s inception, as Moon himself had noted in a 1991 speech, “Literally nine hundred million to one billion dollars has been spent to activate and run the Washington Times”. In 2002, Columbia Journalism Review suggested Moon had spent nearly $2 billion on the Times. In 2008, Thomas F. Roeser of the Chicago Daily Observer mentioned competition from the Times as a factor moving the Washington Post to the right, and said that Moon had “announced he will spend as many future billions as is needed to keep the paper competitive.”

    Why don’t right-wingers believe in the wisdom of the free market?

  8. michael reynolds says:

    Huntsman? Why not Santa Claus? He’s got some free time now.

  9. al-Ameda says:

    I say let Eric Cantor try to manage (unyielding, uncompomrising, my-way-or-the-highway) people like himself.

  10. Jeremy R says:

    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.

    Isn’t it worse than that? AFAIR it’s only allowing a vote when the Republicans can make a majority without any Democratic votes — shutting them out / making them irrelevant — to governing in the House.