Boehner Became More Conservative, But Not At Same Rate As GOP House
House Speaker John Boehner's resignation wasn't a complete surprise, but the timing took many off guard since his announcement came only one day after the pope's address to Congress.
Boehner seemed relaxed, having sung “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” on his way to publicly announce the decision. But for his time in the speakership, Boehner had to deal with a growing hard conservative insurgency within his own conference, thanks to the group that brought him to the speaker’s chair: the Tea Party.
With quiet attacks, and sometimes open rebellion, in his midst, many thought Boehner was growing further out of step with the members of his own party. In fact, the recent move by North Carolina Congressman Mark Meadows to force a new election for the speakership shows the growing discontent with the party’s leader by those on the hard right.
But in looking at a scholarly analysis of conservative to liberal placement within the House, Boehner moved more conservative along with his own party. The problem was, the number of ‘more conservative’ members outpaced the speaker’s march to the ideological right.
In using the D-Nominate scores for determining conservative placement (primarily on economic issues, with a -1.0 being most liberal and 1.0 being most conservative), Boehner accumulated a score of 0.527 in his first service in the 102nd Congress, with the GOP Conference having a 0.359. By the time of the 113th Congress, Boehner had moved to the right with a 0.748, while the conference had caught up to him with a 0.723.
(A note: in the 112th, when he first took the speakership, Boehner did not cast any votes, as was the tradition for speakers, so I kept his score at 0.726 from the previous session. The data for the 113th Congress gave him the 0.748 score).
So, it wasn’t for a lack of conservatism on the part of the Speaker, but rather the conservatism of his own party that began to aggravate Boehner. When Boehner started in the 102nd Congress, only 24 other Republicans were considered more conservative.
By the 113th Congress, however, 116 Republicans were more conservative than their leader, with the discontent generated against the speaker coming from the members of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, such as Meadows and South Carolina’s Representative Mick Mulvaney. The House Freedom Caucus members in the 113 Congress had a D-Nominate average of 0.895.
With the rise of the Tea Party revolutionaries, the speaker had fallen to being in the middle of the conference in terms of conservatism.
Now, attention turns to who will fill the top House position, and the subsequent dominoes that will fall because of that ascension. The likely candidate is California Republican Kevin McCarthy, currently the number two in the GOP leadership and the natural to slide into the speaker’s chair. Within 48 hours, reports were already indicating that McCarthy was moving to secure support and even raising money off his presumed assumption of the speakership.
But even with a new speaker, the likelihood is that the House GOP Conference will continue to be a den of intense conservatiism and potential mutiny within their own ranks. McCarthy’s D-Nominate score has been 0.666, with 153 members to his right, and all but one member of the Freedom Caucus to the prospective speaker’s right.
That means that nearly two-thirds of all the Republican members in the U.S. House are considered “more conservative” than their leader in waiting.
Even if the leadership change quells the insurgent hard-core conservatives, the honeymoon will most likely be short-lived for anyone who dares to venture into the speaker’s chair.