john-boehner-is-stuck-between-a-rock-and-a-hard-placenbsp(Source: Getty via The Week)

House Speaker John Boehner wrote an op-ed in USA Today blaming President Barack Obama for the shutdown of the federal government. Virtually no one is buying it.

Obama and the Democrats have incentive, of course, to call this the "Tea Party Shutdown." That's how House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi described it. Obama said the problem is "one faction of one party of one house of Congress in one branch of goverment."

John Boehner now faces two primary challengers in 2014. Didn't he just shut down the government like conservatives wanted? Yeah, but he's no Ted Cruz.

But some Republicans are increasingly vocal about their frustration with the wingnut wing of their party, which is taking cues from Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah, who are themselves towing the line for the conservative Heritage Foundation and Senate Conservatives Fund.

To wit: U.S. Rep. Peter King of New York called Cruz's "Lost Cause" strategy "governmental terrorism." Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott said the leadership must "teach him something or cut his legs out from under him." Congressman Devin Nunes of California characterize the "Ted Cruz Republicans" thusly: They are "lemmings with suicide vests."

In his op-ed, Boehner blamed Obama's "scorched-earth policy of refusing to negotiate in [a] bipartisan way." The claim is brimming over with fallacy. Let's take two factors.

One is that Obama and Congressional Democrats have done an egregious job selling the Affordable Care Act. Remember, this president believes himself to have transcended the grimy calloused labor of partisan politics. Because he failed to sell the law, Republicans have been fundraising like gangbusters off the hatred and fear aroused by it.

From that view, Obamacare is the best thing to happen to the GOP since the passing of the Civil Rights Act. If Obama now appears tough, that's an accident. Americans don't know if they like Obamacare yet but they do know they don't like playing chicken.

Two is that scorched-earth policy. Boehner does face one, but not from his left.

In September, Ohio businessman Eric Gurr announced his candicacy to unseat Boehner. The reason was Boehner's support of strikes on Syria. Echoing the anti-interventionism of Rand Paul, Gurr told the Cincinnati Enquirer that punitive action was "a tipping point. I’m not a big fan of getting involved in the internal politics of another country.”

Gurr was perhaps responding to a poll by Human Events, an ultra-conservative publication once favored by Ronald Reagan. The survey, released on Sept. 5 before the government shutdown, suggests Boehner has been in trouble in his district for some time. 

Sixty-five percent wanted to defund Obamacare "even if it means a government shutdown." Sixty-five percent wanted Boehner to investigate the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. And 48 percent believed he hasn't done much about spending.

In order, the first is self-defeating, the second an out-and-out conspiracy theory, the third gross ignorance of massive budget cuts of recent years. To some spectators, this is a low-information universe, to say the least, but to the base of Ohio's 8th District, these are the facts. In short, these are constituents whom Cruz Republicans serve.

Which brings us to Boehner's second primary challenger.

On the day Boehner shut down the government—in effect, giving the base what it demanded of him—J.D. Winteregg announced his intent to challenge him. While Eric Gurr is an entrepreneur, Winteregg appears to be an operative of the Senate Conservatives Fund, a PAC founded by former Senator Jim DeMint, who is head of the Heritage Foundation. The SCF launched an enormous campaign over the summer that called for Republicans to go to the wall on undermining the Affordable Care Act.

According to Human Events, Winteregg led a "Defund Obamacare" rally in August in front of Boehner's district office. He decided to fight Boehner because of his inability to repeal Obamacare (without noting that Boehner presided over a 46 House repeal votes) and because the House Speaker sometimes appears to want compromise with Obama.

"In addition to his inability to repeal and or defund the Affordable Care Act, Winteregg said the people in the district are angry that Boehner has supported amnesty for illegal aliens and to support other parts of the president’s program," wrote Neil McCabe.

Peter King was right. Ted Cruz is terrifying about 175 Republicans who'd rather get past this but fear retribution of the sort their leader now faces. Cruz is the embodiment of Tea Party ideology, the go-to guy the Senate Conservatives Fund, and now, according to a new survey, the man whom Republican voters believe best represents the GOP.

Republicans are worried about their presidential prospects. They anxious about the damage being done to their brand. But none of that compares the raw terror of being primaried to death by anti-government zealots mounting their own scorched-earth policy.

When Boehner wrote that op-ed for USA Today, most thought it was he said-she said. It wasn't. In blaming the president, Boehner was trying to keep his base from blaming him.


John Stoehr is the managing editor of The Washington Spectator.


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