The thing that makes Boehner interesting is he’s very aware of his limited hand. Boehner doesn’t live in an imaginary world where he thinks he’s Tip O’Neill and he can bring people into his office and corral them into a certain vote. So he treads carefully, maybe too carefully. But he knows a clean CR has never been an option for him.
EK: But why isn’t it an option? A few dozen unhappy members is an annoyance, but how is it a threat? Wouldn't Boehner be better off just facing them down and then moving on with his speakership?
RC: So there are 30 to 40 true hardliners. But there’s another group of maybe 50 to 60 members who are very much pressured by the hardliners. So he may have the votes on paper. But he'd create chaos. It'd be like fiscal cliff level chaos. You could make the argument that if he brought a clean CR to the floor he might have 100-plus with him on the idea. But could they stand firm when pressured by the 30 or 40 hardliners and the outside groups?
The reason why I think it is a puzzle is that the media is representing this as a fight within the Republican party and that a minority within the party is holding Boehner hostage. The median voter theorem predicts that because extreme constituents (i.e. the base of a political party) will never abandon the party, it makes more sense for the leader/politician to lean toward the center/median voter.
So why should Boehner care about the 30-40 hardliners? The "hardliners" represent their districts and their median voter is on one end of the spectrum. But aren't the total of all of these constituents still a minority within the Republican party? And Boehner who leads the party and presumably all congressional members as well within the party would lean toward the center if the majority of the members also have constituents who lean more toward the center.
So here goes: Its the 50 or 60 and perhaps more whose constituents may also be less "centered". Not knowing who they are and the size of all the congressional districts of all of these members it is difficult to say with certainty but I'll go ahead and say it anyway - that perhaps the minority isn't really a minority - and that the Republican party and their constituents truly have swung to one end.
There is some supporting evidence for this from Larry Bartels using data by James Stimson:
(graph by Larry Bartels)
Update (10/7/2013): From Buzzfeed via The Atlantic (emphasis mine):
From its genesis in 2009, the Tea Party movement has been fueled by the rhetoric of revolution. True believers attend rallies unironically dressed in colonial garb. Their early organizers preached earnestly from Saul Alinsky’s left-wing activist handbook Rules For Radicals — a book that advises just the sort of procedural disruption they’ve imposed this week. And while Nevada Senate candidate Sharon Angle outraged mainstream political observers when she suggested people may start looking for “Second Amendment remedies” to the country’s problems, one recent survey showed that nearly half of Republicans believe armed insurrection might be necessary “in the next few years.”
Update (10/9/2013): From the Washington Post/Monkey Cage:
Recently on this blog, Larry Bartels drew attention to an astonishing fact: the public is as conservative as it has been in 50 years. To highlight this point, Professor Bartels presented the public’s policy mood — James Stimson’s measure of public support for government programs—from 1950 to 2012. In a recent article, Julianna Koch and I generated measures of policy mood for each state from the 1950s to 2010 (our measures our here). What we found is that the conservative opinion shift Professor Bartels highlighted repeats itself in every state.