Boehner is a decent man, and a natural legislator, who is caught in a trap. Republican culture since Boehner’s predecessor, Dennis Hastert, has demanded that legislation brought to the House floor have the pledge of support from a majority of the majority — in other words, that House Republicans act in unison, or close to it, before there is any effort to garner Democratic votes, and that no bill go forward unless and until it has support from a substantial majority of Republicans. 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.
What if Boehner doesn’t survive? Go to Article I, Section 2: The Constitution does not say that the speaker of the House has to be a member of the House. In fact, the House can choose anybody a majority wants to fill the post. Every speaker has been a representative from the majority party. But these days, the old pattern clearly is not working.
Even in a multi-ballot marathon, there is no way 17 or more Republicans in the new House would opt for Nancy Pelosi, or any other Democrat. The danger is that a fatigued GOP will settle for a take-no-prisoners firebrand or find another candidate willing to pledge fealty to the radical minority within the majority, turning the current, really bad situation into something worse.