It may not be news when John Boehner holds a fundraiser for the Republican candidate in a tossup district. But when the candidate’s gay, it’s a big deal.
The speaker of the House is going to California this week to raise money for Carl DeMaio, one of two openly gay GOP nominees in close races this year, despite calls from leading social conservative groups for Boehner and other prominent Republicans not to support DeMaio because of his backing of gay marriage. The push is part of an effort by social conservatives like the National Organization for Marriage to place those in favor of same-sex marriage outside the pale in the Republican Party. But Boehner’s motivation for the trip isn’t that he wants to make DeMaio the first openly gay Republican elected to Congress. The 61st speaker of the House simply wants to keep his job.
While Boehner currently presides over a Republican majority of 17, it’s not a functioning majority of 17. The House Republican Caucus has showed a remarkable capacity for rebellion against its leadership in recent years—nine members of the caucus even voted against Boehner for speaker in 2013, and several others contemplated defection. The number of rebellious Republicans is bound to grow in November, as outgoing members like former majority leader Eric Cantor and longtime moderate stalwart Tom Petri are likely to be replaced by fervent conservatives who have not committed to backing Boehner for reelection. The result is that Boehner needs to pick up seats to ensure a functioning majority. After all, Republicans elected in swing districts are far less likely to be willing to risk a government shutdown than those who have safe seats.
DeMaio’s race on its own won’t make a big difference for Boehner. Democrats are already conceding that the Republicans will likely pick up seats in 2014. But every seat matters as Boehner endeavors to build up a rebellion-proof Republican majority and the GOP prepares for what is expected to be a good Democratic year in 2016. As unhappy as social conservatives may be with Boehner, he’s still more appealing than the prospect of Speaker Pelosi in two years.