The GOP’s Followership Problem

December 26th, 2011 at 8:41 am David Frum | 27 Comments |

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Here’s a question to worry about in 2012: Does the inability of Speaker Boehner to lead his House caucus foreshadow the inability of a President Romney to lead a dual-chambered Republican Congress?

One of the dominant factors motivating the decisions of rank-and-file right-wing House Republicans—and not just freshmen—is their lack of trust in Speaker John Boehner. They like him, but they just don’t believe he’s a dependable defender of their interests and beliefs. Those suspicions aren’t entirely groundless. Yes, Boehner has gone out of his way to cultivate the most conservative members of his caucus—every time he has hit an impasse, his first move is to the right, to accommodate them, not to the middle to replace some of them with willing Democrats. But the Speaker has also shown a penchant for compromise that right-wing House members can’t abide.

Boehner’s weakness has repeatedly empowered House conservatives to drive the party and the country to the edge of disaster. Would a President Romney wield a stronger hand?

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27 Comments so far ↓

  • indy

    Shouldn’t this piece be titled ‘The GOP’s Leadership Problem’?

    • bdtex

      Absolutely. Within the next coupla months Mitt Romney will become the leader of the Republican Party.

    • nitrat

      This is another episode of Republicans being able to get away with badmouthing Obama’s leadership, while their Speaker is scared to stand up to its fringe because he wants to maintain his position as Speaker…USA be damned.
      The Republic Party and its representives in Congress should have to take the full responsibility for only 11% approving of Congress and the S&P downgrading.
      The so-called leadership of the Republic Party knows but they are afraid of the midget monster they have created. A minority of a minority is directing our government.
      It’s not Congress, it’s the Republicans in Congress.
      Did anyone who lived through the Clinton Administration actually believe it would be any different?
      This is what happens when you give over the leadership of a major political party to Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Rupert Murdoch/Roger Ailes and the Vast Right Wing Conspiracy that pulls their strings.
      Bring back the FAIRNESS DOCTRINE.
      It is the only way to begin to bring this country back from the brink.

  • TJ Parker

    Without a 60-seat super-majority in the Senate, Romney will be screwed — especially after a viciously partisan campaign for the office. There is no shame in filibustering everything that comes through the Senate: this is the new norm.

    I truly wanna see a President Romney request an extension of the debt ceiling. That will be epic!

    • gover

      No. It won’t be. You are assuming a symmetry between the parties that does not exist.

  • anton

    why do conservatives think they will control all three federal branches of government after next year?

    ya’ll might wanna consider the possibility that it aint gonna happen.

  • Holmes

    “What will happen to the Republican coalition when President Obama wins a second term?”

    David, this is a more realistic line of inquiry, and one not intended to artificially encourage the spirits of moderate conservatives.

    • Graychin

      That is a question that has not yet occurred to most Republicans. Caught within their epistemic closure, they can’t conceive of Obama winning a second term.

      All those polls that say otherwise are just a product of the notoriously biased liberal media – just as those liberals gave the “Lie Of the Year” award to Democrats for calling the Ryan Medicare plan “ending Medicare as we know it.”

  • Oldskool

    Romney has no game, as the kids say, so there’s no need to worry about those hypotheticals.

  • balconesfault

    But the Speaker has also shown a penchant for compromise that right-wing House members can’t abide.

    That is the message that every American needs to understand. The Republicans in the House cannot abide compromise. The media who keeps talking about the failure for both Parties to achieve compromise are willfully misleading the public.

  • Graychin

    I’m not particularly worried about President Romney needing to lead a dual-chambered Republican Congress. I’m a lot more worried about those pesky unicorns eating my tulips.

    But the question does point out that the Republican Party has become a rabble bent on vandalism of the American government that they hate so deeply. They are convinced that government doesn’t work – CAN’T work – and are determined to prove it, as they did the last time a Republican president led a dual-chambered Republican Congress.

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  • dante

    I’m pretty sure that Boehner isn’t going to have to worry about corralling his wayward caucus next year… Current polling shows that the view of the Republican party has plummeted in districts that sent a “tea party” member to Congress last year.

    But the survey also found that the image of the GOP is also taking a beating in districts that sent a tea partyer to Congress. In those tea party districts, the approval rating for the Republican Party has dropped from 51% to 41% over the last 14 months.

    Granted, that’s only the “tea party caucus”, with ~17 freshmen, but it’s still sobering to note that if polling holds, the House could look very, very different next year. Many of the radical tea partiers could be gone, and it’s entirely possible that the House will flip to the Democrats.

  • Ray_Harwick

    Does the inability of Speaker Boehner to lead his House caucus foreshadow the inability of a President Romney to lead a dual-chambered Republican Congress?

    No. It foreshadows a Romney defeat by a Tea Party candidate or Obama and a Democratic majority in the senate and house.

  • Houndentenor


    Why do all presidential candidates think that once elected Congress will pass whatever they propose? Why do they also all think they can work with the leadership of the opposition party? Sometime in the first week in office the Frying Pan of Reality (TM) hits them right between the eyes.

    Of course Romney won’t be able to tame the Congressional Republicans OR Democrats. Neither would any of the other candidates.

  • andydp

    Speaker Boehner has a bigger problem than keeping the Tea Party Caucus “in line”: He’s called Eric Cantor.

    I can only imagine the wheeling dealing going on behind Boehner’s back as we speak. The Speaker should remember this line in Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar:

    “Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look;
    He thinks too much: such men are dangerous.”

  • valkayec

    Would a President Romney wield a stronger hand?

    The simple answer is no. For one of two reasons.

    1) Romney will do whatever Congressional Republicans want and pass. In other words, he’ll follow GW Bush’s precedent in his early years and sign every bill put on his desk by the GOP.

    2) Congressional Republicans, happy with the electoral wins, will settle down, stop being obstructionists and fall in line just as they did in the ’90s.

    The only thing that’s likely to change significantly will be Senate rules. You can bet if Republicans take the Senate, the rules for filibusters and holds will dramatically change immediately. The GOP leadership will never allow the Dems to do to them what the GOP has done to Obama and the Dems. The GOP is not that stupid or trusting. Politics is about power, at least as it is currently being played, of which the GOP have a thorough understanding.

    • Peter Halferding

      And that very act would result in a huge transform of America. As it will enable the Democrats to take over in 2016, and cause a real shift to the left. Because it is reasonable to expect that the USA will remain in economic dolldrums when a lot of Republican Congressional ideas are signed into law.

      The problem is not political management, but the dearth of sound economic ideas in the Republican Party today. This is entirely different from the early 1980s.

      Just keep in mind that during the Reagan Administration even economists like Larry Summers and Paul Krugman worked in Washington DC. There was far broader support for Reagan’s actual economic policies than only hard-core Republicans.

      This is not the case today and the Republicans are going to learn that the hard way, if they take over and remove the current Senate obstacles and really implement their policies.

      It will become like Wisconsin multiplied.

      • valkayec

        The problem would the intervening four years if the Tea Party Republicans get their way. The end of the EPA; the end of the Commerce Dept; the end of the FDA; the end of the Health and Education Depts; a repeal of Dodd-Frank; a limited, weak SEC and CFTC; a repeal of the CFPC; a politicized, weakened Fed; a defunded or repealed ACA; medicare privatized; probably the end of the FCC and FEC; medicaid block granted; reduced food stamp and unemployment aid; taxes on the wealthy and corporations lowered permanently; and heaven only what more.

        Of course, the country club, old time Republicans, particularly in the Senate, will reject most of these ideas. There’s too much money to be made in the status quo, except for those programs that insure income stability/support. So, in reality, you’re probably right. The House would rampage. The Senate will quietly reject…and the economy will sputter along while unemployment remains high and the middle class becomes weaker.

  • medinnus

    I find the Pro-Obama “fait acompli” attitude in this thread disconcerting, and frankly, idiotic. A quick examination of political history shows that the Democrats have rarely missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Don’t assume the GOP are down and out; work your ass off to make it so.

    Crow about victory after the election, not before. Never assume your opponent is finished; kick them when they are down, all the way to their grave.

    • Emma

      Paraphrasing the Bard, nothing in this campaign will become the GOP like the losing it.

      • Baron Siegfried

        Or Pogo T. Possum, who said “We have met the enemy, and he is us”.

        This is actually becoming acutely embarrassing – I used to be a YR back in the Buckley days, when the GOP had manners, morals, and values. I stopped supporting the party in the late 90′s after the antics of Newt and the ascension of the evangelicals (I left the YRs after being pressured to get up and ‘make my testament to Jesus’ and I had no intention of doing so). When they accepted the John Birch Society into the CPAC convention, though, that was it for me and I changed my affiliation to ‘Not Affiliated’.

        Since then, the tone and tenor of politics has gotten meaner, more spiteful, and considerably more low-brow. The latest ads by the Superpacs indicates an certain level of hysteria on their part, and really don’t score any points with me . . . I still hold to beliefs I had when I was a YR – it’s just that the party has shifted to a point where I’m now a progressive democrat, as ironic as I find that to be.

  • Solo4114

    I question whether any GOP presidential candidate could truly “tame” the House GOP — or a GOP senate staffed with like-minded newly-elected senators.

    What we might see, however, is a more stern attempt to control such elements from the party higher-ups. Having beaten Obama, at that point (McConnel’s stated goal), they might be more inclined to flex their muscles against those Tea Party types who have the “my way or the highway” attitude, or who refuse to play ball the way they’re told to play ball.

    I think a more interesting hypothetical would be: What would happen to the GOP if they really took all three houses? Would such a success only lead to a “GOP Civil War,” or would everyone fall in line and do as they’re told?

  • LFC

    The Tea Party and the wild-eyed slice of the evangelicals have tasted power and won’t let go of it willingly. These people are nuts and impervious to logic. Winning 95% of an issue goes into the loss column for them. The power brokers of the GOP decided that this was their base and they cultivated them, driving out the likes of me and many others on this board. I guess because we weren’t as devoted to party over country and we certainly weren’t as motivated as the crazy people, we were expendable.

    Now they have no real leaders. Why? Because any true leader in the GOP today would be just as insane and impervious to reality as the base. So instead of leaders they have mouthpieces. If the base screams for something stupid, they parrot the stupidity rather than try to try to steer them towards reality. I think Boehner would like to be known as a great political figure one day rather than a meat puppet, but he craps his britches every time the nut-wing of the House (happily lead by Kooky Cantor) starts yelling at him.

    Until the GOP loses enough elections because of the crazies, don’t expect anything to change.

  • beowulf

    Most of the Tea Party freshmen were swept in on a tide and will be swept out of office again regardless of who wins the WH next year.