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Civil War Buffs: Why the media love John Boehner’s outbursts

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The Huffington Post, which loves to taunt conservatives, must have enjoyed posting this lead headline: “BOEHNER RIPS RIGHT.”

Here we go again, with lefty pundits salivating over the prospect of a bloody Republican civil war. Not since the days of the government shutdown have liberals so relished the eye-gouging on the other side.

“Boehner is going all Howard Beale this week. Fun to watch,” tweeted the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza.

But here’s the thing about the coverage of Boehner’s mad-as-hell moment: it’s undeniably fascinating. (And a heckuva lot more interesting than the details of a budget deal that leaves 90 percent of the sequester cuts intact.)

Boehner’s gamble paid off yesterday as the House approved the cobbled-together compromise on a big bipartisan vote, with 169 Republicans joining 163 Democrats in the yes column.

But the House speaker was at it again before the vote, pouncing on the conservative groups who have slammed the party’s budget deal with the Dems: “Frankly I think they're misleading their followers. I think they're pushing our members in places they don't want to be," he added. "And frankly I just think they've lost all credibility.”

Frankly, this is too good to pass up, and not just because the Beltway loves a brawl. The Tea Party wing of his caucus has made Boehner look weak, and he has mostly suffered in silence until now. On Wednesday he called the opposition of such organizations as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth “ridiculous.”

Keep in mind that Boehner and Eric Cantor were opposed to the government-shutdown strategy pushed by the GOP’s Ted Cruz faction, and they were right that it a) didn’t work, and b) hurt the Republican Party.

You know it’s a serious split when Paul Ryan, the right’s darling in 2012, goes on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” to respond to criticism from fellow conservatives that he sold out in cutting the deal with Patty Murray. Ryan says the Republicans have to deal with the reality of divided government. The more purist wing says it’s a betrayal to play small ball when the GOP wants so much more (except that such a deal could never pass the Senate or be signed by President Obama).

Not that Democrats are thrilled with an agreement that fails to extend long-term unemployment benefits. Nancy Pelosi told her members in a closed-door meeting to “embrace the suck” and support the bill, according to Politico—truly one of the strangest rallying cries ever.

So civil war buffs aside, Boehner’s stance is actually big news that could affect GOP strategy in 2014 and beyond.

At Slate, John Dickerson underscores the importance of the speaker’s language:

“Boehner was not simply voicing an alternative policy position about the merits of the plan's spending reductions. He was making a claim about the low motives and trickery of the organizations that claim to represent the interests of grassroots conservatives…

“What GOP leaders are fighting against is the outsize expectations of the faithful who want policy victories that are impossible in a system of divided government. At times like this, pragmatic party leaders often tell their stalwarts not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but Boehner is saying more than that. He is calling out the arbiters of purity in his party, saying that while they use the language of policy and principle, they are merely doing so to advance their own narrow aims. They can never be satisfied because satisfaction doesn't bring in donations. 

“Boehner is essentially calling them grassroots con men.”

National Review turns on the party’s former VP candidate:

“House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan has now accomplished the astonishing task of pushing House Republicans substantially to the left of the Senate GOP. His budget deal, announced Tuesday night, was achieved by shutting conservative Senate Republicans out of negotiations, by resorting to the old trick of spending now while claiming savings later, by ignoring a symbolically important budgetary red line, and by treating as Democratic “concessions” things to which even Democratic budgeteers already had agreed.

“The chess equivalent of Ryan’s deal would be trading a castle for a mere pawn. No wonder conservatives are feeling rooked…

“For the duration of the Obama presidency, the deficit would actually rise, with none of the net ‘savings’ occurring until at least 2017. Once again, Congress would play Wimpy to the taxpayers’ Popeye, promising to pay Tuesday for a hamburger today.”

The New Republic says the Republicans have gambled that the collapse of ObamaCare will carry them to victory next November—and are wrong:

“The Murray-Ryan deal isn’t really about the sequester. It’s a two-year truce on fiscal self-sabotage—and, more to the point, a bet on who benefits from such a truce.

“That is, Republicans believe the Obama administration (and really the entire Democratic Party) will collapse under the weight of its irredeemable health care law if we just get through the next two years without a political catastrophe like the recent government shutdown. Democrats believe the economy will pick up momentum and solve a lot of their political problems, not to mention a good chunk of the deficit, if we can just put an end to gratuitous spending cuts while the recovery is still fragile.

“So the question becomes: who got the better side of this bet? And that answer to that, I think, is Democrats.”

Or the budget deal could turn out to be a non-factor in the midterms. A more important factor is whether Boehner’s anger at his right flank will lead him to shift gears toward greater cooperation with the Democrats.

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.