John Boehner is out as speaker of the U.S. House — unable to placate the conservative wing of the Republican party. We’re told his replacement will have to do a better of job of that.
Yet it’s virtually certain the next speaker will eventually suffer Boehner’s fate. That’s because it isn’t possible to make Republican conservatives happy, for a couple of important reasons.
The first is practical. As viewers of the presidential debates know, deeply conservative Republicans rely on a politics of grievance and persecution for their influence — taxes are too high, spending is too high, regulations are too strict, it’s all someone else’s fault. Rush Limbaugh has made millions of dollars exploiting that sense of grievance, which millions of Americans share.
His political offspring now serve in Congress and state legislatures. If they abandon grievance, they lose their reason for existence. Repeal Obamacare, stop immigration, defund Planned Parenthood, and movement conservatives would come up with something else to be mad about, or perish.
The other explanation for conservatives’ implacable posture is more interesting.
It’s often said movement conservatives are anti-government. The truth seems broader — they’re actually anti-modern, worried about a culture changing in ways they can’t accept.
That fear is obvious in some ways, like the concern over immigration or same-sex marriage. But it provides a foundation for almost every conservative critique: America was a better country, they argue, when everyone knew his place.
Sometimes, that means other nations — America should dictate other countries’ development of nuclear weapons, for example. Sometimes, it means institutions like colleges and churches, where priests and professors should instruct students and believers, not engage them.
Mostly, though, it’s reflected in gender, race and class, an argument for stay-at-home mothers, a compliant labor force, the gentle hand of quiet segregation. It’s a vision of America before Brown v. Topeka, before Japanese cars, before birth control, before the Mass in English, before Elvis.
That vision is so powerful it affects everything deep conservatism sees. It explains the rise of Donald Trump, whose slogan — “make America great again” — summarizes the argument. It explains why deep conservatives can’t be satisfied with mere changes in laws and policy. They propose a different way of life.
The new speaker is asked to fulfill that vision. And, of course, the speaker after him.