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Why ‘Hard-Core Conservative’ John Boehner Wasn’t Conservative Enough

Political scientists say the resignation of the Republican Speaker of the House signals a trend in American politics for both parties.

Friday’s surprise announcement by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that he will resign at the end of October signals a growing divide in the Republican party. But the shift also reflects a national trend in both parties.

Last year, a poll by the Pew Research Center found that Republicans and Democrats are further apart ideologically than at any point in recent history. And that polarization is creeping into the parties themselves, although more visibly among Republicans.

Brandon Rottinghaus, an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of Houston, says since the 1990s we’ve seen a gradual, but pronounced distinction between the parties.

“You’ve got Democrats becoming more liberal and Republicans becoming more conservative. That has created a lot of inter-party fighting and it has created a lot of inter-chamber fighting between the House and the Senate. So this is a recipe for gridlock, at best,” Rottinghaus said.

House Speaker John Boehner meets Pope Francis in Washington D.C.
House Speaker John Boehner meets Pope Francis in Washington D.C.

Even though Boehner is staunchly pro-life, opposed to same-sex marriage and has been labeled a hard-core conservative, he was seen by many in his party as too willing to compromise with Democrats.

Mark Jones is a political science fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute. He says the Boehner situation illustrates the growing polarization at elite levels of politics.

“The center is less and less well represented in Congress, and what we see represented in Congress is the edges of the political spectrum, the more liberal edge and the more conservative edge,” Jones said.

He says it’s becoming increasingly more difficult to be a centrist and win primary elections.

Meanwhile, Rottinghaus says Boehner’s decision to step aside could turn into a good thing for the GOP.

“It could be the case that the Republicans can elect somebody who could provide a fresh voice, a fresh perspective,” Rottinghaus said. “Even if it’s not that much different in terms of the negotiation than what Boehner would offer, it could be just that a new face provides for new opportunities.”

And both Rottinghaus and Jones say that new face could come from Texas.

They say Jeb Hensarling, who represents Texas’ 5th Congressional district in Dallas, has strong support among the Tea Party wing. Hensarling’s staffers have confirmed he’s considering entering the Speaker’s race.

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Laurie Johnson

Executive Producer for News

Laurie Johnson leads daily news coverage for HPM. She helps reporters craft and sharpen their stories on tight deadlines, with the aim of getting the most relevant and current information into local newscasts. Laurie is a native Houstonian who started her career at Houston Public Media in 2002. She is...

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