Victory Has Defeated You!

I spoke too soon when I pointed to the “best” take on the Republican meltdown in the House. The most deeply-reported look at the mess comes from Robert Costa, who hung around to get detailed descriptions of Boehner’s strategy – running to assistant whipes, asking if there was a way out, giving up. Costa’s is the only take that hints at Republican evolution. The key: Sad Republicans who had no idea it would go this way. There were “audible gasps of surprise” during Boehner’s minutes-long “I surrender” meeting. There were angry drinks down the road.

Since the meeting lasted only a few minutes, several members, such as Representative Tim Huelskamp of Kansas, missed the session. As Huelskamp, a leading “Plan B” adversary, rushed to get there, he saw a stream of his colleagues leaving. They were on their phones with aides and family members, sharing the news. They’d be coming home for the holidays since the House was in a state of chaos. Some of them, however, seemed bewildered by the turn of events. They walked slowly down the basement hallway, whispering with other members. One freshman asked a senior member, “Are we really not coming back?” The senior member simply nodded. Almost everyone avoided the press. Feelings were raw. Representative Steve King of Iowa, a frequent Boehner critic, looked at me, shook his head, and said, “I have nothing to say.”

One theory of possible ramifications is that Boehner will find it even harder, in 2013, to win back these people. They’ve grown more confident that the market won’t implode, and that voters will be angry at the president, not them, if the economy starts to teeter. But they need to have ice grills for a few months. Costa’s reporting suggests that they can’t pull it off.

But maybe I’m too quick to dismiss the possibility that a weak Boehner becomes the target of a coup. The other day, when Costa and I (and lots of people) were asking Republicans about next moves, Costa asked Rep. Dave Schweikert whether there’d be such a move against Boehner.

“One thing at a time,” he said.