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U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, isn't divulging who he backs in the contentious bout for speaker of the House. 

Mayhem might be an understatement when describing the past two weeks. Speaker John Boehner announced his pending resignation amid continued battles with the GOP's 40-or-so hard-line conservatives, dubbed the House Freedom Caucus. Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was the odds-on favorite heading into last week's closed-door Republican caucus meeting. But McCarthy exited the room and promptly pulled himself from contention. The right-wing wasn't apparently sold on McCarthy either, who, like Boehner, would likely actually attempt to govern throughout President Obama's final 18 months in office.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman and Republican budget czar Paul Ryan looks to be the only would-be speaker who could garner support from both the establishment and hard-line Republicans. Yet, repeatedly in recent days, Mitt Romney's former running mate has said he wants nothing to do with being second in line of succession. And who can blame him? 

Shimkus, a 10-term congressman, has been a close ally of John Boehner throughout his tenure. And he's staying above the fray and keeping his options open.

"The congressman will listen to any of his colleagues who ask for his support for speaker and carefully consider who could successfully advance the conservative governing agenda that his constituents demand and deserve," said Shimkus spokesman Jordan Haverly on Monday.

Follow-up questions and requests for an interview with Shimkus himself went unanswered. Shimkus called Boehner's resignation an act of "sacrificial love," in a statement immediately following the speaker's tearful Sept. 25 press conference. 

Mike Bost's office indicated Wednesday that the freshman Republican would be available to discuss the chaos the following day. But that was before McCarthy got steamrolled behind closed doors. Bost wasn't available for comment Monday. To be fair, Monday was a federal holiday and most members of Congress are spending the recess doing constituent and campaign work.

One can't help but feel pity for Boehner and his allies, including Shimkus. Whether you find their policy agreeable isn't the question right now. Establishment Republicans are interested in governing.

The party's tea party insurgency, a tiny but potent band of firebrands, simply aren't in the business of actual governance. They're more concerned with scoring ideological points and fooling voters into believing their reckless grandstanding is somehow principled. They proved too much for Boehner. No doubt, any reasonable successor is all but doomed to fail until the GOP fringe is cowed. Even George W. Bush's Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has given up on the party.

He “lost patience with Republicans’ susceptibility to the know-nothing-ism of the far right," Bernanke wrote in his recently published memoir. "I didn’t leave the Republican Party. I felt that the party left me.”

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The odd thing is, the wedge is almost entirely about tactics, not policy.

Most Republicans would generally support defunding Planned Parenthood. But only the hard-line are willing to shutter the government over it. The vast majority of the country blamed Republicans' 2013 shutdown over Obamacare, a maneuver manufactured by the tea party. 

The Iran nuclear pact. Deregulation. Same sex marriage and states rights. Widespread agreement can be found among the House GOP on all fronts. There are outliers, of course. The tea party's recent assault on the otherwise non-controversial Export-Import Bank is an example. But, overall, the House Freedom Caucus will never be happy until they have a leader who's willing to burn everything down in the name of ideology.

And that's why Paul Ryan would be wise to stay as far away from almost guaranteed failure. It's why Boehner allies like Shimkus are wise to stay tight-lipped throughout the process. 

They're dealing with a faction that considers compromise sinful. And, like most zealots, they won't soon forget who crossed them.

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Jon Alexander is opinion page editor at The Southern. He can be reached at jonathan.alexander@the southern.com.

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