Just How Incredibly Incompetent Was the Anti-Boehner Coup Attempt?

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 4 2013 12:32 PM

Just How Incredibly Incompetent Was the Anti-Boehner Coup Attempt?

Robert Costa has (as one would expect) the best, ugliest look at the motley group of Republicans who kinda-sorta tried to overthrow John Boehner. The revelation: The conservatives were about as adept at planning a coup as Richard Reid was at setting off shoe bombs. I use the analogy advisedly, because despite his failure, Reid ended up changing our footwear's relationship with the TSA.

Costa and I both spent part of Thursday asking rebels, and possible rebels, how they would vote. The only development that gave me pause was the behavior of Rep. Louie Gohmert, an arch right-winger with no ambition of rising in the leadership. He dodged reporters and took cellphone calls on the members-only balcony, pausing only to talk to likeminded rebels like Rep. Mick Mulvaney. As Gohmert avoided us, one member confirmed that there would be an anti-Boehner vote, and it might crack 17—the number needed to force a second ballot. The secrecy looked wise.

But this was artifice. Politico's story from last night, based on Rep. Tim Huelskamp's live whip count, revealed that the rebels hadn't counted votes. "I only heard about it from a reporter," Rep. Phil Gingrey told Costa. "I’m one of the most conservative guys here, and I find out about this thing 15 minutes before the vote?" said Rep. Trent Franks. Both members are outsiders who can be counted on to oppose the party's compromises. Neither of them was courted. And as Josh Green points out, neither they nor the coup-planners had an alternative candidate, and they plotted all of this in short notice and in public.

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In 1997, the House GOP nearly overthrew Newt Gingrich over an issue similar to the one now roiling Republicans—too much compromise with a Democratic president. Their candidate to replace Gingrich was Dick Armey. But they didn't realize that Armey would get cold feet and that his chief of staff would tip off Gingrich to the plan. It was a world-class bumble, but compare that to the 2013 coup plan—embarrass Boehner on the first ballot so that he'd be so ashamed he'd resign.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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