Posted on January 4, 2013
Much like the first coup I witnessed personally, the second coup, the one against House Speaker John Boehner that was launched yesterday, collapsed ignominiously.
In July of 1997, several rebels from the famed class of 1994 (the forerunners of the Tea Party) came up with a crazy idea. Get rid of Newt Gingrich.
Lindsey Graham, Joe Scarborough, Tom Coburn, Mark Souder, Steve Largent and about a dozen others huddled in a Capitol Hill office with Tom DeLay and plotted out a strategy to force Newt to quit.
What they failed to come up with then was an alternative.
As it turned out, the coup was a public relations disaster for the Republicans. Instead of focusing their attack on President Clinton’s policies, they focused their attack on one another.
They all looked foolish.
15 months later, the House Republicans took it on the chin during the election, as they discovered that impeaching a popular President for the crime of having sex with an intern and then lying about it wasn’t kosher with the American people.
John Boehner learned a lot from the Newt Speakership.
He learned to not over-promise about what he could and couldn’t accomplish. He learned to not make policy pronouncements to the press on the way to the bathroom near the Speaker’s office. He learned to keep his focus on the House of Representatives and not on revitalizing American civilization. He learned to be careful in his public utterances. He learned to not complain about walking off the back of Air Force One. He learned that shutting down the government for two months is a bad way to make public policy.
He learned all of those things, and yet he still faced the same kind of disorganized, incoherent coup that Newt Gingrich faced 15 years ago.
Now, there are a couple of big differences between then and now.
The, the coup plotters had the active participation of members of the leadership. Boehner doesn’t face that today.
Then Newt Gingrich was a political liability in just about every Congressional district. Members of Congress lost their general elections in 1996 and in 1998 because the flamboyant leadership of Newt Gingrich.
Nobody is facing a challenge back home because of John Boehner. Boehner is seen as a sober leader who is trying to do the best for the country.
Then, the media took an active role in persecuting Newt. They found Gingrich to be both fascinating and scary. They loved his intellect, but they got more press by bringing him down.
The media actually likes John Boehner today. They feel sorry for him. They wonder why he would want the job.
The coup plotters of 1994 and coup plotters of today are very similar, though. Both groups were hopelessly naïve about how the political system actually works. Both groups hailed from overwhelmingly conservative districts. Both groups had messianic aspects to them. Both groups effectively used new media (cable then, the internet today) to spread their messages. And both groups never came up with a coherent alternative to the status quo.
It is not surprising that Steve Stockman, the new Congressman from Texas, was one of the coup-plotters who decided not to vote for Boehner yesterday. Stockman was one of the more colorful characters from the class of 94 but he didn’t last long the first time around.
The Coup II plotters couldn’t agree on who they were going to replace Boehner, which again was not surprising. It kind of reminded me of what happens when Republicans vote in the District of Columbia. I usually write-in the names of some of my friends for various positions in the DC government on Election Day. That is what the Coup II plotters did. They wrote in the names of their friends.
Seems like a real waste to me.
As somebody who worked in the House Republican leadership for 15 years, I hate when Republicans commit violence against other Republicans. It is such a waste of time, and it helps give so much comfort the Democrats.
Coup II, like Coup I, won’t help anything. In fact, it will probably make things worse.