A coup at the Capitol

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio responds to reporters about the impasse over passing the Homeland Security budget because of Republican efforts to block President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. J. Scott Applewhite | AP

It’s not every day there’s a coup in the U.S. government, but that’s what happened today with the bombshell announcement that John Boehner is fleeing his speakership and Congress.

Boehner, who is second to Joe Biden in the presidential line of succession, was likely pushed out by conservatives who used the threat of a government-funding showdown to overthrow his leadership of the House of Cards.

His exit took the nation by surprise, but maybe it shouldn’t have, given the signs, as The Hill reported hours before Boehner gave up his hold on power.

“That’s what tells you there’s something afoot. You know there’s some drops of blood in the water, because all the sharks are starting to circle,” one conservative lawmaker who backs Boehner’s ouster told The Hill.

At a private fundraiser for a GOP lawmaker last week, a donor asked Boehner whether he was worried about a possible conservative insurrection.

“Look, this group of guys is not going to knock me off my stride,” Boehner replied, according to a source in the room.

“The Speaker isn’t going anywhere,” added Boehner spokeswoman Emily Schillinger. “He’s focused on the American people’s priorities and how we can accomplish them.”

A number of Boehner’s close friends and allies have dismissed the coup talk as overblown, insisting he has a firm grip on his conference. Neither they nor anyone they’ve talked to have received phone calls from GOP colleagues seeking support for an imminent leadership race, the allies added.

Is the move to hold the government hostage over funding for Planned Parenthood a philosophical move by conservatives? Or was it a smokescreen to overthrow a powerful politician?

Before the move, Salon’s Simon Maloy said no matter what happens, Republicans have failed at their promise of competent governing.

A good number of Republicans and conservatives remain convinced that shutdowns are harmless in the long run, given that they shut the government down in late 2013 and then romped to victory in the midterms a year later. And if Boehner really feels threatened in his speakership, he might see this as the easiest path to getting what he wants with as little political harm as possible.

Of course, if that is what happens, then we can consider ourselves well and truly screwed and completely dispense with any hope that the government will function in a normal, healthy way any time soon. First off, it’s worth remembering that the impact of a government shutdown extends well beyond the political realm. If the government’s funding isn’t renewed in the next few days, many millions of people could lose their SNAP benefits for the duration of the shutdown, and those people will have to forgo eating because Boehner and the Republicans prioritized a hopeless fight over Planned Parenthood and their own political positions.

More broadly speaking, the more we go down this shutdown road, the higher the risk it happens again. Conservatives remain convinced that shutdowns are a prudent vehicle for achieving policy objectives despite the fact that they have never, ever worked. They’ll keep finding ways to rationalize these massive disruptions to government operations. And, absent a massive political realignment, it seems likely that the House will remain in the hands of Republicans for many years to come. Whoever leads the House is going to face the same pressures that Boehner has faced for almost five years now. If shutting down the government comes to be viewed as a way to defend one’s position in the leadership against conservative revolts, then why wouldn’t a threatened speaker let funding lapse every now and again to preserve his or her throne?

Ironically, if Boehner was to survive the coup, he needed the help of Democrats. The fact he chose to quit shows the Democrats were only too happy to watch the House descend into utter chaos, suggests, Salon’s Jim Newell.

Right to the end, Boehner was insisting the unmanageable House of Representatives could be managed.

“Garbage men get used to the smell of bad garbage. Prisoners learn how to become prisoners, all right?” he said in an interview a few days ago.