With those hopeful words, the actor portraying Robert the Bruce excitedly informed his leper father that things were stirring in the hinterlands. The people finally had enough and war was coming.
Raul Labrador, a Republican Congressman from Idaho, may not be Robert the Bruce, but his pronouncement this week is no less pregnant with meaning for the Republican establishment than the young Scottish Earl’s was in the film Braveheart.
This rebellion has been stirring only since 2006, and its target – John Boehner and his leadership team – is hardly as malevolent as King Edward Longshanks, but a rebellion has begun against the Speaker of the House. The last time Republicans attempted to remove their chosen leader, the Speaker was Newt Gingrich and the year was 1998.
After infuriating the his caucus with a peripatetic leadership style of lurching from issue to issue and position to position, the Republicans were nearing a point of exhaustion with the imperious Gingrich. His histrionic tantrum at having to ride in the back of Air Force One to attend the funeral of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin made Gingrich the laughing stock of the nation, and further corroded the Republican brand.
The Republican party rode to power in the Congress based on conservative promises and principles. Their first 100 days in power saw them pass the Contract with America, a series of conservative core issues ranging from welfare reform to tax cuts to a balanced budget. The problem was that conservatives never saw Gingrich as one of their own, and his post-Contract gyrations further increased their anxiety that Gingrich was, like so many of his Republican predecessors, more interested in being beloved by the establishment than in doing the things necessary to right our national course.
The intra-party feud seeped into the public discourse, and soon two camps were trading barbs, the moderate establishmentarians in favor of Gingrich and the conservatives opposed to him. A small band of rebels, including then-Congressmen Joe Scarborough and, incredibly, Lindsey Graham, finally took action. Joined by then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay, the group prepared to file a motion to remove Gingrich. In what could have easily been a scene from Braveheart, their coup was quashed – mainly by the perfidious actions of then House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who feigned support for the rebels before turning them over to Gingrich. So ended the last Republican coup attempt.
Eventually, the Republicans lost control of the Congress, but rose once again from the ashes in 2006, installing the only remaining member of Gingrich’s original House leadership team, John Boehner. Boehner didn’t survive in leadership to see Gingrich’s eventual deracination, as he was removed from his Conference Chairman position by the surging DeLay conservative team.
But, losing that position might have been the best thing to happen to John Boehner. Whether it was good for Republicans is debatable. His demotion to the rank and file enabled him to survive and, with none of the previous generation of leaders extant, he was able to assume the mantle of leadership.
That would be great had he, finally, realized that he leads a conservative Republican House caucus. But, almost from the start, Boehner seems to care more about what the Washington Post and President Obama think of him, than he does about his own members. As he is soon likely to discover, perfidy only lasts so long.
Raul Labrador is a relatively newcomer in the House of Representatives. Elected in 2010 (Boeher arrived 19 years earlier), Labrador has not shied from defending conservative policies and principles. His style is not very politic, and it’s unlikely we’ll find Labrador the guest of honor at Washington establishment parties, but this week he spoke a truth that smolders beneath the surface in the House Republican caucus.
“There is a hunger in the conference for bold, visionary leaders, and this is not just conservatives — you talk to more middle-of-the-road members of the conference, they’re kind of frustrated with the direction of this leadership, and they’re looking for ways to change that,” he told CQ Roll Call.
Ways to change that? I haven’t heard such sweet words since “Father, a rebellion has begun.”
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