Conservatives: Rebels without a cause

House GOP members shall not oppose the Speaker
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Story highlights

  • Conservatives are being punished for their failed plot to oust John Boehner as speaker
  • They're promising a fight, but have no clear plan for how to move forward
  • Others are showing a new willingness to work with the Speaker

Washington (CNN)The tea party's latest failed revolt against House Speaker John Boehner underscored one of the movement's biggest problems heading into the new Congress.

They are rebels with no clear cause.
It's an issue that's bedeviled the tea party since its inception in 2010: They lack a central planning organization, a structure and a long-term strategic vision.
    And Boehner, with a shrewd command of all three, was already flexing those muscles Tuesday, doling out early retribution to two lawmakers that opposed him by removing them from committee spots. Meanwhile, Rep. Tim Huelskamp speculated he wasn't awarded a subcommittee chairmanship because of his vote. Boehner signaled Wednesday that he could mend fences, by saying he's starting "a family conversation" with his critics.
    But the issue remains. Conservative lawmakers admitted after Tuesday's vote that they had no clear plan going forward.
    "There's going to be a fight" in response to Boehner's acts of retribution, promised Rep. Louie Gohmert in the halls of the Capitol Tuesday.
    Gohmert had offered himself up as an alternative to Boehner for speaker. But when pressed on details, he said only: "You don't win a fight by telling your game plan ahead of time."
    Conservatives are still fuming that leadership has offered them no clear plan to tackle Obama's executive action on deportations or Obamacare. House leadership passed a spending bill last month that tackled neither, promising to address the immigration problem in February when funding for the Department of Homeland Security runs out.
    "You know, the speaker said he was going to fight tooth and nail against the amnesty — are they really going to do that?" Huelskamp wondered on Tuesday.
    But asked whether there may be another showdown between conservatives and leadership when DHS funding hits that deadline, conservatives were unclear.
    "We'll have to see what's next," Huelskamp said.
    "I don't know how [the DHS funding fight] is going to go down," said Rep. Thomas Massie, a Kentucky conservative who voted for the second time against Boehner as Speaker.
    Although the coup attempt managed to organize the greatest opposition to a speaker seen in more than 150 years, its failure underscored the problems plaguing the party's conservative wing.
    It made clear they, too, are fractured, squabbling over best tactics and strategies.
    House conservative aides and strategists for outside groups that had been whipping votes against Boehner say the vote came apart at the last minute, was hastily planned and had no clear leader or purpose.
    In a scathing statement, South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, considered by many conservatives to be an easy vote against Boehner who ultimately in fact supported him, denounced the lack of organization behind the attempt.
    "This was an effort driven as much by talk radio as by a thoughtful and principled effort to make a change. It was poorly considered and poorly executed, and I learned first-hand that is no way to fight a battle," he said. "This coup today was bound to fail."
    He and other conservatives who supported Boehner, in their explanations, indicated conservatives are coming around to the Washington way of giving a little to get a lot.
    "I am all for fighting, but I am more interested in fighting and winning than I am fighting an unwinnable battle," Mulvaney said in his statement.
    House conservative Rep. Raul Labrador also seemed amenable to working with Boehner, rather than against him, in the new Congress.
    Boehner fights off Tea Party challengers
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    "I think it is unwise to marginalize yourself when there is no chance of victory, which was the case today," he said.
    He added that Boehner "assured me that he wants to change the way the House is run" and "asked for my help moving the House in a more conservative direction."
    But others are pledging even fiercer fights to come.
    Indeed, many conservatives are still claiming Tuesday as a victory, certain that it's not only wounded Boehner but will turn up the heat on conservatives who unexpectedly supported him to stand strong on their values and commitments to voters in the next fight.
    Outside groups named more than a dozen lawmakers, including constant conservative stalwarts like Rep. Jeb Hensarling and some freshmen, like Georgia Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who campaigned on opposing Boehner as particular disappointments.
    But as conservative strategist Daniel Horowitz put it, they believe those conservatives' defections on the speaker vote means they won't have room to compromise on their values in the future.
    "This improves our chances for wins in upcoming legislative fights, because now conservatives have no option but to fall in line," he said.