Calling it quits for the night, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, center, with House GOP leaders, speaks briefly to reporters, just after 1:00 a.m., Tuesday morning, Oct. 1, 2013. • AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Never issue a threat you can't carry out.
Never make a promise on which you can't deliver.
House Speaker John Boehner would have been wise to keep in-mind these sayings when agreeing with his most conservative Republican members' strategy of shutting down the federal government to defund Obamacare. Boehner chose that politically perilous path rather than putting a "clean" continuing resolution on the House floor, to keep the government running at its current funding levels.
Boehner's clearly had to watch over his shoulder. Many analysts have suggested if he got too far out ahead of his troops he would have lost their support - and likely his job.
The thing is, it didn't have to be this way. By putting a clean CR on the House floor, and passing it with a majority of Democratic votes, Boehner would have created more headaches for himself. But he likely wouldn't have put his speakership in jeopardy.
That's because the most fervent House Republican members don't make up a majority of the GOP conference, or even close. New Yorker political writer Ryan Lizza recently dubbed these most-conservative members the "suicide caucus" for their willingness to shut down the government in a futile effort to block Obamacare.
Half of these districts are concentrated in the South, and a quarter of them are in the Midwest, while there's a smattering of thirteen in the rural West and four in rural Pennsylvania (outside the population centers of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh). Naturally, there are no members from New England, the megalopolis corridor from Washington to Boston, or along the Pacific coastline.
These eighty members represent just eighteen per cent of the House and just a third of the two hundred and thirty-three House Republicans. They were elected with fourteen and a half million of the hundred and eighteen million votes cast in House elections last November, or twelve per cent of the total. In all, they represent fifty-eight million constituents. That may sound like a lot, but it's just eighteen per cent of the population.
In other words, if these members tried to push Boehner out of the speakership they likely wouldn't have the numbers to succeed. Even if Democrats joined in a vote to "vacate the chair" they wouldn't be able to install House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi as speaker. After all, elected to the House's top job requires a majority of all members. House conservatives who want to continue the shutdown strategy couldn't likely mathematically install one of their own as speaker.
So Boehner actually has more maneuvering room than he seems to think. If only he's willing to go against the most implacable members in his House Republican Conference. Taking on the unwinnable fight to defund Obamacare through the budget standoff never made a lot of sense.