Stories of mutiny in the Republican ranks abound. The press has a fairly amusing story that loosely follows the plot of Macbeth. If your Shakespeare is rusty, Macbeth is all about betrayal and seizing power. We don’t know exactly who is playing Lady Macbeth, although their gender is probably wrong for the part. Whether they will follow through and attempt a coup, the story line is an irresistible distraction for the media.
So why is Boehner in trouble? Because he does have a majority of support of his party. But in effect, a small number, seventeen, could abandon him on the House floor when the vote for Speaker of the House is taken. Since none of the Democrats will vote for him, of course, this means he wouldn’t have a majority. The House keeps voting until a Speaker gets a majority.
Instead of focusing on spending cuts the president will accept, on what cuts could pass the Senate, the media is obsessed with this unseemly side show in the House.
Back to Macbeth. Some members think John Boehner isn’t strident enough in negotiations with the President. As if refusing to budge on all points will somehow make the President capitulate.
I don’t think so.
So what exactly would a coup accomplish? Short term, will make the fiscal cliff a certainty and the Republicans will be the bad guys. There is no spin they can put on this that will overtake the narrative of the President Barack Obama and the Democrats.
Even if they could, this isn’t just a PR game. Real effects of the tax increases and spending cuts will commence. Members who are sure the fiscal cliff wouldn’t be so bad will have business people in their office, ringing their phones off the hook, yelling at them, screaming at them to do something. I don’t know this for certain, but if you look at past outcomes, how has the shutdown strategy fared?
The last showdown that was effective was in the Reagan administration. Somehow, they had control of the narrative and when Reagan stood up to the Congress and let the government shut down, he won the day. But I don’t think this strategy has ever worked again. At least in part, probably a major part, because of the unsympathetic press coverage. The House will be portrayed as obstructionist. They will fall further in the polls.
No Member of the House has emerged as a new leader as of today. There will always be ambitious Members who will try to fill a power vacuum they think they see. They will have the intoxicating fumes, a whiff of power, as the press follows them around and hangs on their every word for a few days. After all, this is what they had secret dreams of when they first thought of running. But how quickly the smells turn acrid and they will be cast as either the spoilers, with a tough way back to saving face, or much less likely, holding actual power. It is so much more fun to be a “bomb thrower” when you can say almost anything knowing it will not be enacted, than to take actual responsibility for the impact of your actions and ideas.
In reality, any leader will have to do the same thing Boehner is trying to do: compromise. Because he has a very bad hand. All he can do is try not to leave the table in his underwear. The House shares power. The Republicans lost seats in the Senate. There is very little -if any- leverage. Get real.
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