During the 2013 government shutdown fight, Rep. David Nunes, R-Calif., referred to the extremist members advocating a shutdown as “lemmings with suicide vests.” But the far-right flank, often called the “Suicide Caucus,” has only grown in power since then and has recently gained momentum in its push to remove John Boehner, who they say hasn’t done enough to fight President Obama, from his position as speaker of the House.
The “Suicide Caucus” is particularly angry that the House Republican leadership approved an increase in the debt ceiling and hasn’t successfully defunded Planned Parenthood or the Affordable Care Act. Of course, there was little Boehner could do to accomplish any of these goals, since Republicans could not override an inevitable veto from the president or overcome opposition from Senate Democrats. But the “Suicide Caucus” doesn’t exactly function according to logic.
Many of the most radical members of Congress became more organized with the formation of the House Freedom Caucus, which The Economist described as a group dedicated to making “reckless and unrealistic” demands of Boehner, “consistent with their record of attempting wild, hapless heists against both Mr. Obama and the Republican leadership.”
With Boehner announcing his resignation today, it’s important to remember that the people who have spent years calling for Boehner’s ouster also represent the far-right flank of the party. As Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., put it, “this is a victory for the crazies.”
Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., who organized a failed attempt to topple Boehner earlier this year, blasted Boehner for leading a system that was reminiscent of “China, Cuba or any other communist country.” Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, for whom Boehner had some choice words after he ranted about the size of immigrants’ calves, criticized Boehner for how he handled immigration issues, claiming that the speaker was “throwing tantrums” and “taking a shovel and digging himself into a hole a little bit deeper.” Like King, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., attacked Boehner’s leadership, claiming that he “surrendered to the left” and “let Pelosi and Reid run the House and the Senate.”
And, of course, the “Suicide Caucus” treats Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, as its leader, which Boehner doesn’t exactly like.
The anti-Boehner caucus also got help from conservative talk radio. American Family Radio’s Sandy Rios dubbed Boehner a “big liar,” AFR’s Bryan Fischer compared him to Pontius Pilate and syndicated radio host Michael Savage referred to the speaker as a “deranged drunk.”
One of Boehner’s most vocal opponents was Glenn Beck, who told his listeners that they should consider themselves “done with the Republican Party” if Boehner won re-election to his post as speaker (which he did).
Beck’s choice to replace Boehner? None other than Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, the top conspiracy theorist of the House GOP.
After Gohmert tried, and failed, to win the speakership earlier this year, he explained that Americans would only turn to him to be speaker in a time of war or a similar crisis, when everyone would realize that he was the right choice all along. “The only way a guy like me could ever get elected to be speaker would be is if we were during a time of all-out war and people had figured, ‘Wow, Louie’s been right all along and maybe we should give him a chance,’” he said. “That’s the only — we’re not going to elect me in a time of undeclared war and I know that and I understood that.”
But who could better reflect the Republican Party’s decline into a hotbed of radicalism and conspiracy theories than Gohmert?