Another important factor identified by The Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib (among others) is the way that members’ incentives are affected by the changing composition of the districts they represent. “As both states and congressional districts become more clearly red or blue—dominated by Republican voters and Democratic voters, respectively—an increasing number of lawmakers worry less about a political challenge from the other party and more about a primary challenge from a ideologically driven conservative or liberal from within the lawmaker’s own party,” Seib writes. Given the deep fears of a primary challenge that exist among members of Boehner’s caucus, it’s no surprise that many aren’t willing to fall into line for the good of the party.

Finally, The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza describes several other changes in Congress that reduce Boehner’s power relative to previous House speakers: the weakening of personal relationships between legislators, members’ greater ability to raise funds and attract media attention independently, and the diminished tenures of speakers in the contemporary Congress.

When reporters provide this sort of context, it helps voters understand why John Boehner has such a tough job—and why superficial explanations of his struggles fall short.

Follow the author on Twitter @BrendanNyhan.

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Brendan Nyhan is an assistant professor of government at Dartmouth College. He blogs at and tweets @BrendanNyhan.