Even if the quixotic maneuver got to the point of nominating alternatives, Rep. Mike Simpson, one of the speaker's close friends, said his allies would simply renominate Boehner. Those close to the speaker believe he has at least 150 backers, enough to block any other Republican candidacy.
"There's enough of us that would say, 'We're not voting for anybody else,'" he said. "'If somehow you did something that made him step out and put up another candidate, we're voting for Boehner and you're never going to have votes.'"
Still, in the worst case, the House would be forced into multiple rounds of voting and could meet a deadlock. Republicans could strike a deal with some Democrats to nominate a consensus candidate—an unlikely scenario given the polarized atmosphere of today's politics. Or Boehner could step aside and Republicans could agree to coalesce around someone else. Yet allies warn that other strong candidates, like Rep. Paul Ryan, do not want the job, while few other members, not even Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, have the seasoned fund-raising infrastructure and political operation it takes to lead the party.
The difficulty of overthrowing a speaker in the middle of a term is exactly why it has never happened before. The motion was invoked against then-Speaker Joseph Cannon in 1910, but he refused to step aside. (Although he lost the speakership later that year when his party lost the general election.) Similarly, a backroom coup against then-Speaker Newt Gingrich failed in 1997 when he refused to cede power. (Ironically, Boehner was a key figure in that insurrection.)
The plot could work, then, only if it embarrassed Boehner to the point where he decided to willingly step aside—and some of his allies do wonder whether he has had enough with being constantly undercut.
"This has got to have an affect on him, personally, just psychologically. To have to go to the mat on these issues. He ran for it, he knows what the job entails, but we certainly made it pretty difficult on him when we seem to fight so much among ourselves," Rep. Steve Womack said. "From the speaker election to the other issues, he's just been really put through the process. I hate it that our conference has so many issues, so many factions among itself, that we can't get our team together and all be singing off the same sheet of music."
The fact that the conference is so factionalized remains among the top reasons Boehner still holds the gavel. Rep. Daniel Webster, the former speaker of the Florida House, came the closest yet to dethroning Boehner when he attracted 12 votes on the House floor earlier this year—nearly half of the 25 Republicans who cast their ballots for someone other than Boehner.
"In the end, I don't know that I caused any problems, I think I just revealed an underlying problem, and it may not be enough to be concerned about. But there is an underlying problem," Webster said.
It is possible that when it comes time to elect a speaker in 2017, the opposition will have grown and organized. After all, members said, if the first two months of the year are any indication, it is going to be a long two years. But as to why Boehner has been able to remain in power, despite his travails, fits and starts, failures and near failures, and attempts to unseat him, Webster said only:
"He's got more support than I did."