WASHINGTON (AP) -- The gulf between tea party conservatives and establishment Republicans has grown so wide that it just swallowed up the speaker of the House, and may threaten the entire Republican Party and Congress itself.
The question now is whether anyone can tame the House's rabble-rousing faction, in the wake of Speaker John Boehner's decision to resign rather than face a possible vote to depose him. The stakes are sky-high, given the critical deadlines looming to keep the government running and raise the nation's borrowing limit.
With the GOP presidential contest riding an anti-establishment wave, it's almost mandatory for the candidates to denounce Republican congressional leaders at the first sign of any potential compromise with Democrats. Dealmaking is that much tougher in Congress, even as some fear it could harm the party's chances at the White House in 2016.
The long-running drama of establishment vs. insurgency played out anew Friday on Capitol Hill as tea party conservatives cheered Boehner's announcement that he will leave his job at the end of October. The move will ensure that the government stays open into December because the 13-term Ohio lawmaker rejected conservative demands to dare President Barack Obama to veto a government spending bill that cuts money for Planned Parenthood.
Photos of John Boehner during his time as speaker:
John Boehner during his time as speaker
Boehner's departure raises question: Can house GOP be led?
FILE - In this July 29,2015 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. According to GOP lawmakers, Boehner to step down end of October. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio becomes emotional as Pope Francis appears on the Speaker's Balcony on Capitol Hill, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015 and waves to the waiting crowd. The pope addressed a joint meeting of Congress before stepping out on the balcony. Between the pope and Boehner is Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 24: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) (R) speaks with Pope Francis (L) in the U.S. Capitol building before the Pontiff speaks to a joint meeting of Congress September 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. Pope Francis will be the first Pope to ever address a joint meeting of Congress. The Pope is on a six-day trip to the U.S., with stops in Washington, New York City and Philadelphia. (Photo By Bill Clark-PoolGetty Images)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 29, 2015. An effort by a conservative Republican to strip Boehner of his position as the top House leader is largely symbolic, but is a sign of discontent among the more conservative wing of the House GOP. On Tuesday, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who was disciplined earlier this year by House leadership, filed a resolution to vacate the chair, an initial procedural step.(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
FILE - In this June 28, 2015 file photo, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, to talk about the Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act. Having lost their latest war against President Barack Obamaâs health care overhaul, Republicans must decide how to wage battles that could fan the issue for the 2016 elections. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 19: Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) arrives for his weekly press conference at the U.S. Capitol on March 19, 2015 in Washington, DC. Boehner answered questions on the Republican budget, Hillary Clinton's emails, and other topics during the press conference. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, left, kisses House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif., right, in the Rose Garden of the White House before President Barack Obama's remarks to members of Congress, Tuesday, April 21, 2015 in Washington. Obama thanked those who supported H.R. 2, the Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act of 2015 to improve the affordability and quality of health care for the youngest and oldest in the nation. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio listens during a news conference following a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015. Boehner said he's waiting for the Senate to act on legislation to fund the Homeland Security Department ahead of Friday's midnight deadline. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
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. The House voted last month to end Homeland Security funding on Saturday unless Obama reverses his order to protect millions of immigrants from possible deportation. After Democratic filibusters blocked the bill in the Senate, the chamber's Republican leaders agreed this week to offer a "clean" funding measure, with no immigration strings attached. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio casts multiple shadows as he leaves the Rayburn Room on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, after presiding over ceremonial re-enactments of the House swearing-in ceremony. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, kisses House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of Calif. after being re-elected to a third term during the opening session of the 114th Congress, as Republicans assume full control for the first time in eight years, Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, on Capitol Hill in Washington. AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais )
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to the House chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, July 31, 2014, for final votes as Congress rushes for the doors and a five-week summer recess. The institutional split of a Republican-led House and Democratic-controlled Senate has added up to inaction, especially in a midterm election year with control of the Senate at stake. Lawmakers have struggled to compromise on a handful of bills to deal with the nation's pressing problems amid overwhelming partisanship. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio waits to speak on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2014, following a Republican strategy session after returning from a five-week recess. Boehner said Islamic State militants are a serious threat that must be dealt with in Iraq, Syria or wherever they exist and insisted that no decision would be made on a congressional vote until President Barack Obama lays out his strategy to defeat the militants. Boehner and other congressional leaders are heading to the White House this afternoon for a meeting with Obama. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio tickles John Griffin III, son of Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Ark., outside his office, after a House vote, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Boehner said Thursday he will give President Barack Obama a proposal temporarily extending the government's ability to borrow money and averting a potential default _ but only if he agrees to negotiate over ending a partial government shutdown and a longer-term increase in the debt ceiling. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, center, joined by fellow Republicans, speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, following a closed-door GOP meeting, to announce that House Republicans will advance legislation to temporarily extend the government's ability to borrow money to meet its financial obligations. From left are, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, Boehner, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy of Calif., Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Mo., and Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Kansas. The federal government remains partially shut down for a 10th day and faces a first-ever default between Oct. 17 and the end of the month. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio walks to a House Republican Conference meeting to discuss the ongoing budget fight, Monday, Sept. 30, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Republican unity showed unmistakable signs of fraying Monday as Democrats and the White House vowed to reject tea party-driven demands to delay the nation's health care overhaul as the price for averting a partial government shutdown at midnight. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
House Speaker John Boehner, of Ohio, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, after a closed-door strategy session. Pressure is building on fractious Republicans over legislation to prevent a partial government shutdown, as the Democratic-led Senate is expected to strip a tea party-backed plan to defund the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as "Obamacare," from their bill. Boehner originally preferred a plan to deliver to President Obama a stopgap funding bill without the provision to eliminate the health care law. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, leaves after a three hour photo session with members of the new 113th Congress that convened on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Barack Obama gestures while giving his State of the Union address on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012. Vice President Joe Biden and House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio listen at rear. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, are on the first green as they play golf at Andrews Air Force Base, Md., Saturday, June 18, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Following a meeting with President Barack Obama today, House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, accompanied by House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., talks about the budget, Tuesday, April 5, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., walk out to speak to reporters after their meeting at the White House in Washington with President Obama regarding the budget and possible government shutdown, Wednesday, April 6, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
House Speaker-designate John Boehner of Ohio wipes away tears as he waits to receive the gavel from outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif. during the first session of the 112th Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
House Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio celebrates the GOP's victory that changes the balance of power in Congress and will likely elevate him to speaker of the House, during an election night gathering hosted by the National Republican Congressional Committee at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Washington, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
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But Boehner's announcement only puts off that fight and others, and promises a chaotic leadership struggle that may result in new leaders facing the same fundamental problem: a core group of 30 or so conservative lawmakers repulsed by compromise and commanding enough votes to stymie leadership plans, despite the GOP's immense majority.
"You're going to have a new speaker who is going to have to wonder if he or she is going to be the next person losing their head," said Rep. Bill Flores, R-Texas. "We are a tough group to lead. We are a really tough group to lead."
Boehner made his announcement the day after meeting with members of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of hardliners dedicated to fighting for conservative principles at any cost. Several of those lawmakers informed Boehner they would support a floor vote to oust him from his speakership.
Rather than put the House through the turmoil of such a vote, which hadn't been tried in over 100 years, Boehner told stunned lawmakers he would leave Congress next month. He endorsed his deputy, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.
The announcement delighted hardline conservatives even as it dismayed many more establishment-minded members. Later, many of these members urged strategies to neutralize the hardline crowd and short-circuit their tactics. Two years ago, those tactics resulted in a 16-day partial government shutdown over Obama's health care law; most Republicans believe that impasse damaged their party.
"I'm sure some of those guys have Cheshire grins right now," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa. He advocated a strong line against them: "'If you're not willing to govern, we will make you marginal and irrelevant and we will find those who will help us.'"
Said Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Ohio, a Boehner ally: "We have to govern here. We don't get to go on talk radio and say whatever we want."
Yet Boehner's move seemed only to embolden the hardliners, with several on Capitol Hill and off suggesting that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., would be their next target.
McConnell had pledged that the GOP Congress would show voters that Republicans can govern in the runup to the 2016 elections. But conservatives complain that the GOP takeover of the Senate this year has not yielded results, and now a House run by less-proven leaders may test McConnell's promise once more.
"Mitch McConnell is infinitely worse as a leader than Boehner. He surrenders at the sight of battle every time," said Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Ariz., one of the rebels. "We made a lot of promises to the American people that if we took the Senate that we would do certain things and those things have not been accomplished."
Democrats were at turns gleeful at the GOP discomfort and grim over the future turmoil it portends. Some lawmakers in both parties hope Boehner will use the month remaining in his tenure to jam through politically painful votes, including highway funding legislation and a renewal of the Export-Import Bank, which Republicans allowed to expire this year.
"These people don't want government. They just want their way or the highway," said Rep. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J. He said those who have challenged Boehner are "not going to be satisfied until there is total chaos."
The situation has come about even as Republican leaders and outside groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have worked diligently in recent cycles to elect mainstream candidates, not fringe tea partyers. They can claim successes, particularly in the Senate. But in the House, hardline conservatives may continue to upset leaders' plans to advance a governing agenda, even with a new speaker.
"The disagreements within the conference have never been about John Boehner's personality, they've been disagreements over tactics," said David Schnittger, Boehner's former longtime deputy chief of staff. "And they're probably going to continue."
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Mary Clare Jalonick and Deb Riechmann contributed to this report.