Now the dust settles.
After a historic House vote in which Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, mustered just enough votes to retain his hold on power, to the chagrin of many conservative Republicans, those same conservatives say they feel abandoned by the party they’ve worked to support.
Some are even starting to utter the “T” word, as in “third” party.
“I thought we were going to have enough there to deny him the speakership. Talk about a complete repudiation of our election mandate,” said Judson Phillips, founder of Tea Party Nation, one of the nation’s largest tea-party groups. “Just two months ago people said, ‘We’re tired of Obama and we’re tired of things being done business as usual in Washington,’ and now he (Boehner) gets up there and pushes through amnesty and funding for Obamacare just like there’s absolutely nothing changed.”
To make matters worse, Boehner suffered no consequences for his role in facilitating President Obama’s agenda. His party handed him the speaker’s gavel again to wield over the newly seated House, which enjoys its largest Republican majority in decades.
“It’s Potomac fever, and it’s just terrible,” Phillips said.
Conservatives needed 28 Republicans to vote against Boehner and force the election of a new speaker. They got 25.
Phyllis Schlafly, founder of Eagle Forum, prolific author and a legendary leader of grassroots conservatism, echoed Phillips’ disappointment.
“I guess they didn’t get the message on Nov. 4. It’s an outrage, because the Nov. 4 election was a very, very strong message that we don’t want them to play bipartisan games. We want them to stand up for Republican values, conservative principles, and we want them to be fighters,” Schlafly said. “We don’t want bipartisan people. Obama said his agenda was on the ballot Nov. 4, and the American people said, ‘No, we don’t want it.’ So this is very disappointing.”
Franklin Lawson, founder of North Carolina Tea Party Coalition, said he felt personally betrayed by Rep. Mark Walker, a freshman Republican congressman from the Greensboro area who campaigned on a platform of changing the Washington leadership.
“I think we knew the outcome, but a lot of us were looking for people to step up and represent their constituency,” Lawson said. “Some who we were counting on ended up changing their minds at the last minute. One in particular that kind of stands out who really voiced very broadly that he would not support Boehner was Mark Walker. He said it was time for a change. He was very vocal about it. And then he turns around and votes the other way.”
Another freshman lawmaker, Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., from suburban north Atlanta, made similar statements during his campaign, only to turn and vote for Boehner.
On the flip side were conservative lawmakers like Mark Meadows, R-N.C., who said nothing publicly about how they were leaning ahead of Tuesday’s vote, but when the time came for the roll call they stood against Boehner.
“Meadows has turned out to be someone whose word is something. When he says something, you can count on him,” Lawson said, but that is increasingly rare in a politician, no matter what his stripes.
“My personal opinion is it’s the influence of Washington. Unfortunately, we’ve got these people who get up there and get in these meetings in rooms with people with power and prestige, and all of a sudden it’s like a cloud comes over them and sucks their brains out,” Lawson said. “Unless you have a real strong foundation, you can’t withstand that pressure. A lot of these folks that turned on us, they’re not going to last long. I’m already seeing chatter on social media that we need to vote them out of office in 2016.”
Time for a third party?
Phillips said he believes many of the Republicans who came down on Boehner’s side will live to regret it.
“His only problem with amnesty is that Obama didn’t ask Congress to approve it,” Phillips said of Boehner. “He’s going to push the Chamber of Commerce agenda, which is going to completely destroy the middle class. I think the next two years will be disastrous for conservatives. He’s going to try to push amnesty. He will push a free-trade agenda that’s going to help crush the middle class, and I predict the Republicans are going to raise taxes.”
Phillips noted that Republicans such as Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee are already talking about raising the federal gas tax.
“Democrats are going to play Republicans like they played George W. Bush and then ram through a higher gas tax,” he said. “Then what are the Republicans going to run on in 2016? They’re going to be left saying, ‘Oh we didn’t repeal Obamacare, we didn’t stop amnesty, but oh by the way we just raised your taxes through the roof.'”
Years from now, the vote to retain Boehner as speaker might be seen as the beginning of the end of the Republican Party, Phillips said.
“I think you will see the rise of a new conservative party,” he said.
Phillips said he’s seen polls that indicate up to one-third of Republicans “are ready to bolt the party.”
“I started in 1972 putting out yard signs for Richard Nixon. I have been a member of the party just about everywhere I’ve lived. I’ve run for office as a Republican, and at this point I don’t know if I can stay around,” he said. “Who’s looking out for the average American, for the middle class?
“We’ve got these trade agreements. We’ve got amnesty. How do these things help the middle class? They don’t,” Phillips continued. “Who stands for freedom and liberty anymore? Republicans will defect, or some kind of third party structure will emerge over the next few months. It needs to happen quickly.”
Like Phillips, North Carolina’s tea-party leader also believes the Republican Party may have run out of steam in terms of its conservative moxie.
“Third party comes up frequently because how many times are we going to give our time, our resources, our money only to be slapped down?” Lawson asks. “You hear all this stuff on Fox News saying you can’t go to the far right just like you can’t go to the far left, but one of the things I’ve always said is I will compromise everything but never my principles and values. Unfortunately, we’ve got some Republicans up there who don’t have any strong principles and values.”
Lawson said Tuesday’s vote proved something to him. “Well, we had a few good patriots. That’s about all I can really say. It’s unfortunate,” he said. “So I feel that (third party issue) is going to be a very hot and heated discussion among the conservative ranks here over next 14 months.”
Schlafly: ‘Two party system here to stay’
Schlafly, however, isn’t ready to give up on the Republican Party.
“Oh no, no, no, America is a two-party country,” she said. “If you like third parties, move to Europe. I’ve given up on trying to reform the Democratic Party, but I do believe we can take back control of the Republican Party. That’s where the fight is, and I encourage everyone to stay engaged and fight the establishment Republicans. We used to call them the Rockefeller Republicans. Now we call them RINOs. We beat them then with Ronald Reagan, and we can beat them again, because it’s obvious they give us a whole series of losers.”
Many of these “losers” are entranced by power, or even the thought of being wooed by power.
“I call them go-alongers,” she said. “They’re entranced by this bipartisan get-along message, when that’s not what we elect them for. We’re looking for some people with some fire in their bellies in the Republican majority right now.”
The idea that things must “get done” through bipartisan cooperation was evident in the comments of several Republican congressmen after the vote.
“The American people are going to give us two years to try to get things done, and we have to be serious about it. We have to be focused on it, and things like this are a distraction,” Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, told the Wall Street Journal. “The debate about this is important, but we had this in November. To have a handful of folks gin this up [now] with talk radio is really, really unfortunate.”
For others, it seemed to be more about the party than the principles.
“I’ve had my differences with the speaker, but I plan to support him,” Rep. John Fleming, R-La., told the Journal before the vote. “He led us through a period where we’ve increased our majority, substantially.”
Conservatives defecting from Boehner told the Journal they objected to how he ran the House, faulting him for hashing out too many deals behind closed doors and not giving lawmakers enough time to read legislation before voting.
Phillips said if conservatives are going to have any impact, they will need to have an organizational structure for a new party in place by this summer.
“Labor Day is the official start of the next big political season. So if we’re going to do something, what I think we ought to do, is conservative Republicans need to support conservative candidates in the primary and if the conservative loses, vote for an independent in the general election. There is no difference between establishment Republican and Democrat so who cares if you cost them a Senate seat. But we cannot wait till summer of 2016, that’s too late. Conservatives need to start planning today. There needs to be some type of structure or organization so we’ve got candidates on the ground, we’ve got boots on the ground ready to get out the vote.”
Phillips said the 25 House members (see list below) who mustered the courage to vote against Boehner might make a good base for a new independent conservative party.
“If we got a few good conservative candidates out there as independents, we could actually have a profound impact,” he said. “Say you had four in the Senate. Republicans will need those four votes of the conservatives when they caucus, so they could say, ‘OK, here’s our four votes and here’s what we want in exchange.'”
The same thing goes for the House.
The Republicans have a 29-vote margin right now but are almost certain to lose some seats in 2016, especially if a “soft” candidate such as Jeb Bush or Mitt Romney sits at the top of the ticket, Phillips said.
“If the Republicans lose seats, suddenly you’ve got a 10-vote margin, and you’ve got a group of 20 or 25 conservative independents, that becomes a pretty powerful bloc,” he said.
Lawson said time is short.
“It’s going to have to be pretty quick for the next election cycle. Organizing where it can get into place on any solid grounding is going to be tough,” he said. “In my opinion it should have started a year ago. We got behind them, gave them our support thinking maybe it will be different this time, only to be back here sucking wind where we were before. When will we learn?”
Below is the full list of 25 Republicans who voted against Boehner:
1. Rep. Justin Amash voted for Jim Jordan
2. Rep. Brian Babin voted for present
3. Rep. Rod Blum voted for Daniel Webster
4. Rep. Dave Brat voted for Jeff Duncan
5. Rep. Jim Bridenstine voted for Louie Gohmert
6. Rep. Curt Clawson voted for Rand Paul
7. Rep. Scott DesJarlais voted for Jim Jordan
8. Rep. Jeff Duncan voted for Trey Gowdy
9. Rep. Scott Garrett voted for Daniel Webster
10. Rep. Chris Gibson voted for Kevin McCarthy
11. Rep. Louie Gohmert voted Louie Gohmert
12. Rep. Paul Gosar voted for Daniel Webster
13. Rep. Tim Huelskamp voted for Daniel Webster
14. Rep. Walter Jones voted Daniel Webster
15. Rep. Steve King voted Daniel Webster
16. Rep. Thomas Massie voted Ted Yoho
17. Rep. Mark Meadows voted Daniel Webster
18. Rep. Rich Nugent voted Daniel Webster
19. Rep. Gary Palmer voted Jeff Sessions
20. Rep. Bill Posey voted Daniel Webster
21. Rep. Scott Rigell voted Daniel Webster
22. Rep. Marlin Stutzman voted Daniel Webster
23. Rep. Randy Weber voted Gohmert
24. Rep. Daniel Webster voted Daniel Webster
25. Rep. Ted Yoho voted Ted Yoho