Boehner meets his Brutus

Keeping with Shakespearean metaphors, I come not to bury Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) but to praise him. Boehner is doing what a good Speaker should be doing: trying to save his party from disaster. Unfortunately for Boehner and his party, too many of his House Republicans appear determined to relive Pickett's charge, and to the degree they do, they will end up the same way Pickett ended up at Gettysburg.

The two mistakes that Republican operatives and their friends in the media usually make are, first, that they underestimate the power within the GOP of factions that are far to the right; and second, that they underestimate the deadly damage that right-wing factions do to Republican interests, and predict victory shortly before Republican defeats.

What Speaker Boehner has been trying to do is stage an orderly tactical retreat (which is what Lee and Pickett should have done at Gettysburg) in order to regroup and launch new offensives next year.

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When I refer to Boehner's "Brutus" I mean all House Republicans who did not follow his leadership as Speaker. They fail to realize that on issue after issue, from taxing the wealthy to cutting Social Security and Medicare, Republicans are in a distinct minority in public opinion. They fail to realize that Republicans, even before the Plan B fiasco, were on course to receive the greatest blame for the collapse of the fiscal-cliff talks.

The worst move Republicans could make politically is exactly what they are doing, and exactly what Boehner is trying to avoid, which is to receive primary blame for a fiscal crisis because of positions where Republicans are strongly opposed by significant majorities of voters.

I do not believe that Plan B was the shrewdest strategy. Nor will I argue that President Obama and Democrats have handled the fiscal-cliff talks brilliantly, even though they might benefit politically. It would have been far better if Senate leaders from both parties had been included in negotiations from the beginning, which would have given Speaker Boehner more cover offered by Senate Republicans.

There comes a point when leaders have to lead and followers should follow. I worked for the House Democratic leadership under three Speakers and for leadership-level Democratic senators such as Lloyd Bentsen. The rule is that it is perfectly fine to internally dissent and offer alternatives, but there comes a point when the leader makes a decision and the members and staff should follow the leader. When Speaker Boehner was abandoned by so many House Republicans, they were indeed Brutus by standards of longtime congressional conduct.

Republicans need to stop acting like warring tribes competing to be the most extreme.

Speaker Boehner is trying to do what is right for his party and our country. Weakening his authority as Speaker is a disservice to both.

Those on the right who undermine the Speaker might ask for advice from President Romney and Senate Majority Leader McConnell, and then pay a brief visit to the grave of Gen. Pickett.