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Boehner's precarious future

The deadline on the political world's mind right now is Dec. 31 at midnight -- the point at which tax rates go up, automatic spending cuts kick in, extended
Boehner's precarious future
Boehner's precarious future

The deadline on the political world's mind right now is Dec. 31 at midnight -- the point at which tax rates go up, automatic spending cuts kick in, extended employment benefits end, ad a series of related measures begin to undermine the economy.

But there's another date that's circled on House Speaker John Boehner's calendar: Jan. 3. That's the day Boehner is supposed to run unopposed for a second term as Speaker. Up until fairly recently, the outcome of the vote was a foregone conclusion, but this week's debacles have raised serious questions about the Ohio Republican's future.

We talked earlier about the "Plan B" fiasco, which left Boehner beaten and humiliated, looking very much like a leader without followers. But will this translate into the Speaker's downfall in two weeks? Indeed, if the leader of the House Republicans cannot, as a practical matter, lead the House Republicans, doesn't he necessarily have to be replaced with someone the conference will follow? If last night amounted to a vote of no confidence, how does Boehner recover?

Some of the Speaker's allies, at least publicly, aren't concerned.

[N]ot everyone agreed with Meyer that Boehner's leadership might be in peril.Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, who is close to Boehner, said the idea that this episode has hurt Boehner's speakership is, "like saying the superintendent of an insane asylum should be discharged because he couldn't control the crazy people. I mean that's nuts."

I don't claim to be an expert in asylum management, but I don't think LaTourette's comparison is especially compelling. If those who run a mental-health facility have lost control, and mentally unstable people are running wild, then is it really that big a stretch to suggest it's time for a change in the asylum's leadership?

Oddly enough, one of the factors that may save Boehner is the fact that his job isn't exactly desirable right now.

As Jonathan Bernstein noted last night, the problems plaguing House Republicans have less to do with Boehner personally, and more to do with the fact that "too many House Republicans won't accept the reality of the deal they will eventually have to accept."

I think that's true, and I wouldn't want to be in Boehner's shoes either, but leadership counts for something. The House GOP is an out-of-control, extremist bunch, who've given up on the pretense of governing, and seem oddly indifferent to the nation's interests. They need someone to play the role of grown-up.

What's more, consider this from President Obama's perspective. As Rachel noted on the show last night, Obama has been negotiating directly with the House Speaker, working under the assumption that Boehner represents the wishes of his own followers. But it's increasingly obvious that the Speaker isn't on the same page as most House Republicans, which very likely leads the president to wonder if he's wasting his time negotiating with a leader who can't lead.

Ezra Klein added:

A significant number of Boehner's members clearly don't trust his strategic instincts, they don't feel personally bound to support him, they clearly disagree with his belief that tax rates must rise as part of a deal, and they, along with many other Republicans, must be humiliated after the shenanigans on the House floor this evening. Worse, they know that Boehner knows he'll need Democratic support to get a budget deal done. That means "a cave," at least from the perspective of the conservative bloc, is certain. That, too, will make a change of leadership appealing.If a conservative spoiler runs, he or she could very possibly deny Boehner the 218 votes he needs to become speaker, clearing the way for a more moderate candidate like Eric Cantor to unite the party.

The House has given up for the week, leaving town last night and eyeing a possible return next week. I'd keep a close eye on Cantor's travel schedule over the next few days.

The tenure of the weakest House Speaker in modern American history may also turn out to be the shortest.