WASHINGTON – Just a few moments after the news broke in Congress, booming applause broke out on the other side of the capital.
The crowd at the Values Voter Summit in Washington erupted into a lengthy standing ovation when Sen. Marco Rubio announced onstage that House Speaker John Boehner was resigning.
“I’m not here today to bash anyone, but the time has come to turn the page,” the Florida senator said at the Friday gathering. “The time has come to turn the page and allow a new generation of leadership.”
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, one of Boehner’s loudest dissidents from the right, jokingly credited the attendees for the speaker’s decision.
“You want to know how much each of you terrify Washington? Yesterday, John Boehner was Speaker of the House. You all come to town and somehow that changes!” the GOP presidential hopeful said to roaring applause.
Boehner’s planned exit from Congress at the end of October is an earthshaking development for Washington. It’s also a victory for the hard right flank of the Republican Party, which has attacked Boehner for ostensibly refusing to take on President Obama.
On the presidential stage it is Cruz, the de-facto leader of that flank, who stands to benefit. He’s been trailing in a Republican campaign dominated by anti-establishment fervor that has boosted non-politicians Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina into the top three.
“Some people like him on a personal basis,” Trump said of Boehner at the summit. But “we want to see the job being done correctly, we want to see people that are going to get it done.” He added, “We are so disappointed in the Republican establishment.”
Republican candidate and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said at the summit it’s “probably time” that Boehner “stepped down so we can start a new chapter.” Again, the crowd applauded.
Conservative groups active in Republican politics also celebrated. “Too often,” said Heritage Action President Michael Needham, “Speaker Boehner has stood in the way.”
Cruz was introduced by Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine, who said it’s “good news” that “we’re going to get new leadership in the House” and credited Cruz with “exposing” Republican leadership as playing too nice with Democrats.
The move by Boehner, who faced threats of coup attempts, is a blow to the establishment wing of the party that sought to avoid fights with Obama that they didn’t think were winnable or were damaging to the GOP’s larger goals.
Boehner’s allies were disappointed. Rep. Peter King of New York called Boehner’s resignation “a victory for the crazies.” Virginia Rep. Bob Goodlatte hailed Boehner for making a “courageous decision” to unite the party.