There was another danger for Boehner as this crisis unfolded. In the 1995-1996 government shutdown, House Speaker Newt Gingrich was the leader of the rebellion and a willing conscript in the shutdown militia. In this case, Boehner was not the leader but, rather, knew he was being led by the rebels. Moreover, he knew, in the classic phrase, that he had to get ahead of the people who, in public at least, were behind him. That unusual political physics led him to volunteer, reluctantly, to be the front man for this rebellion.
On the surface, this increasingly important faction of the Republican coalition mobilized to repeal, or at least to put off, Obamacare. But the revolt was never only about that. It was about creating a united front against the Obama ethos in its entirety: spending, taxes, gun rights and regulation of business, banking, energy and the environment.
This dispute was also about the get-along, go-along ethos of Congress that these rebels have effectively repealed without ever having taken a vote on it.
Having chosen Obamacare as the fight this time — next time, when the issue is the debt ceiling, the fight will be on spending — they would not and could not retreat. Many in the middle of both parties and in the mainstream press criticized the rebels unmercifully; they used the term “uncompromising” as a pejorative. But the rebels were fired up by the zeal that led the Maquisards to mount an underground effort against the Nazis in World War II France: They saw virtue in resistance, even against hopeless odds. It is not a coincidence that those 1940s rebels were called partisans.
This group is far smaller than its House analogue and its face is Sen. Ted Cruz, Princeton ‘92, who inspires the sort of resentment among liberals that Obama, Columbia ‘83, does among conservatives. They are Ivy Leaguers (and Harvard Law graduates) against the stereotype.