Some 18 months ago I wrote about how Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner was finding it difficult if not impossible to get his putative followers – rank and file House Republicans – to follow.* Tea Partiers in particular were proving recalcitrant, refusing to allow Boehner to do what was he was disposed, which was to take relatively a centrist position vis-à-vis the Democratic opposition.
At the time, Boehner tried every which way to get House Republicans in line. He campaigned for Tea Partiers, moved millions from his own campaign chest to theirs, adopted some of their rhetoric, and gave them a seat at the leadership table. He also shifted his own political positions to accommodate theirs, and tried at every turn to minimize the differences between mainstream Republicans like himself and Tea Partiers to his right.
Things change. In this case not the followers – it’s not that conservative Republicans think differently or that the Tea Party itself has changed its stripes. Rather it’s the context that’s different. First, in the wake of the November elections the president’s hand has been strengthened and the Republicans’ weakened; and second, the American people are so manifestly disgusted with dysfunction in Washington that a number of House Republicans, including key players such as Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor, have shifted their positions – not ideologically, but politically. They are more pliable than they were even six months ago, more willing because of the mood of the moment to follow their leader’s lead.
Hence yesterday’s announcement that for now, steering clear of the fiscal cliff will be up to only two men: Barack Obama and John Boehner. The suggestion the two meet alone was Boehner’s – one he never in a million years would have made had he not been near certain his troops were finally ready to fall into line.