GOP will miss Speaker John Boehner

John Boehner’s value as speaker of the House was on display again this weekend when he went on national television to declare that despite the foolish saber rattling of some of his hard-line Republican colleagues, the federal government will not shut down over funding for Planned Parenthood.

The Ohioan, who announced he is leaving Congress at the end of October, said on CBS’ Face the Nation that the House will consider a short-term continuing resolution under consideration in the Senate before the shutdown deadline, and he believes it will pass.

Getting it done will require support from the chamber’s Democrats, and from those Republicans who share the speaker’s view that GOP malcontents who “whip people into a frenzy believing they can accomplish things that they know, they know are never going to happen” are not only unrealistic, but are harming both the country and the party.

Republicans will miss Boehner’s pragmatic leadership, and if they have any hope of holding their congressional majorities and retaking the White House in 2016, they’ll choose a successor who also favors strategic maneuvering over suicide missions.

Boehner has been no pushover for the Obama administration. He has staked out tough, rational positions on issues important to conservatives. But his hand has been weakened in negotiating with the White House because he has lacked the full support of such a large portion of his caucus, those members who feel symbolic fights over principle are more important than long-term victories.

Boehner understands well how Washington works; without the White House, Republicans are in no position to push through their agenda. With the media ever eager to tag Republicans as obstructionist ideologues, Boehner also knows the GOP is not going to win a showdown with Obama, even if it is right on the issue.

The Planned Parenthood dispute is a good example. Instead of using the controversy over the sale of organs from aborted fetuses to open a much-merited examination of late-term abortions, Republicans insisted on turning it into an opportunity to pull federal funds from the organization. That quickly changed the conversation from the aborting of viable fetuses to the war on women narrative that Democrats have effectively exploited to defeat Republicans.

If the GOP forces a partial government shutdown over this issue, it will undoubtedly give Hillary Clinton the tool she’s been looking for to divert attention from her serial controversies.

Boehner knows this, and has worked to the point of fatigue to bring his more fervent colleagues to that reality.

It has been a thankless job, and Boehner can’t be blamed for calling it quits.

But if they see his departure as an opportunity to turn to leadership hell-bent on tilting at windmills, they will seal their fate as an opposition party with the power to irritate, but not to enact the changes they seek.