With 220 votes, fewer than he might have liked but more than enough to do the job, Ohio Republican Rep. John Boehner was re-elected Thursday as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.
His re-election was never seriously in doubt despite rumors that a conservative "coup" might be in the works ever since a few voluble members of the GOP conference discovered their committee assignments had been "reconfigured." Reaching their apex Wednesday night as some conservative bloggers indicated his resignation might be imminent, the rumors came to naught as only a small handful of Republicans voted for a candidate other than Boehner.
Safely re-elected, Boehner now faces the challenge of leading a fractious coalition—not just in the Congress but across the country—as the capital city's most prominent and influential Republican. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, who proved essential in crafting the compromise that restored much needed permanency to the U.S. tax code, is nonetheless held hostage to the dictatorial whims of the Senate's lead Democrat, Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has little if any desire to consider the concerns of the minority in the normal course of legislative business.
Boehner's job is difficult because almost no one is happy. Some conservatives are in near revolt over Congress' failure to address the problem of out-of-control federal spending. Others are angry that so-called social issues do not carry more weight with the Republican establishment, whose leaders are reluctant to acknowledge their political power. From the regular Republicans to the followers of Ron Paul, there is a distinct lack of unanimity on the subject of what the GOP should do moving forward.
The ultimate beneficiary of all this is, of course, newly re-elected President Barack Obama, who remains intent on exploiting the divisions within the ranks of his political opponents. The more split the GOP is the better Obama likes it.
This should be a lesson to those conservatives who are spoiling for a fight, who seek some kind of ideological cleansing and are intent on purging those who disagree with them on a host of issues. They would do well to remember Ronald Reagan's off-quoted maxim that a politician's 80 percent friend is not a 20 percent enemy. It is important for the right to keep the pressure on the Republican leadership but smart politics dictate they take their wins when they can get them and resolve to go back for the rest when timing and political circumstances make it possible.