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Boehner's resignation is good for these GOP candidates

I've learned from my time in politics that things are rarely as bad as they seem. The converse is also true – they're rarely as good either. I'm reminded of this statement as we hash out the meaning of Speaker John Boehner's abrupt decision to depart Congress and resign his speakership at the end of October.

House Speaker John Boehner announces his resignation during a press conference on Capitol Hill September 25, 2015 in Washington, DC.
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House Speaker John Boehner announces his resignation during a press conference on Capitol Hill September 25, 2015 in Washington, DC.

Many leading conservatives, none more than Senator Ted Cruz, have cheered Boehner's demise, claiming a scalp and taking a victory lap. They see the speaker's departure as the obvious outcome of a grassroots uprising that demanded change. They look at Boehner's political troubles and see it as an affirmation of their own anti-establishment strategy. But, it's more likely that Boehner turning over the reigns of congress to someone new will ultimately aide those presidential candidates labeled "establishment," most of who are governors or former governors.

There are three reasons for this:


First, future fights over government spending are likely to be more heated than the immediate debate before Congress. And, they are not likely to end well for the GOP. With the Speaker's departure, it is expected that a bill to temporarily fund the government beyond the current fiscal year (September 30th) will pass without a provision to defund Planned Parenthood. The debate would then move to mid December and this debate will likely include the need to raise the country's debt ceiling.

So, let's play this out…


It's Dec. 12, three days before an important Republican debate, 12 days before Christmas, and six weeks before the Iowa caucuses. Congress is now dealing with another looming government funding deadline and discussion of shutting down the government over Planned Parenthood. This spending bill will either be combined with raising the debt ceiling or come on the heels of it. Candidates for president will be making their final pushes before the condensed primary season begins. And, if that wasn't enough, we will have a new speaker who is significantly less experienced and likely less skilled, than John Boehner. And the new speaker will have even less room to maneuver inside the current GOP house caucus. When this confluence of events occurs, everyone from Congressman Mick Mulvaney to Senator Marco Rubio and even Nancy Pelosi will be yearning for Boehner.

The second reason is that conservatives' beef with John Boehner is on tactics, not substance. John Boehner wants to defund Planned Parenthood, get rid of Obamacare and decrease spending as much as members of the house freedom caucus do. And, it's true that using a tactic such as shutting down the government to push an agenda doesn't have to be automatically bad for the Republicans. But, recent history has proven government shutdowns to be pretty damaging to the GOP brand. Boehner thinks long term. Many of of his new members think more short-term. In an ugly shutdown fight, where the entire caucus largely agrees on substance, the debate turns to a fight over tactics. That's a fight about process, not ideas. That's a fight that will ultimately cause most voters, including most GOP primary voters, to search for a more reasoned voice.

And, finally, because Senators Cruz and Rubio have been most vocal about Boehner's departure, they are now vested in its success. That feels like a really bad chess move to me. Senator Cruz, particularly, must be very confident that he can manage a government spending fight better than he did previously. Both men have a broader problem when you consider the likely events of mid-December: they are called "senator" and their main government office is in Washington D.C.

The months ahead in Congress are likely to be very bumpy and it will be difficult for either of these senators to remain the darling of the anti-establishment, particularly amid a government shut down gone awry.

And, come mid December, I'd much rather be a governor from a place like Ohio or Florida, than a U.S. senator giving a floor speech in the storied halls of the U.S. Capitol.

Commentary by Sara Taylor Fagen, a partner at DDC Advocacy and a former Political Director for President George W. Bush. She is also a CNBC contributor. Follow her on Twitter @sarafagen2.