As bad as he was, former House Speaker John Boehner was perhaps the only thing standing between relative sanity in the GOP and Tea Party madness. This may bode ill for the Progressive Movement, according to Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. It may escalate the civil war within the Republican Party as well.

Boehner announced that he would be stepping down as Speaker of the House last week in the wake of his encounter with Pope Francis. Whether he literally had a “Come to Jesus Moment” or – as Bernie Sanders suggests – he was simply exhausted from his constant battles in keeping the radical Tea Partiers at bay, his departure will not help the GOP. It is likely to make things worse.

On one side, there are the hard-line, right-wing fiscal “conservatives” who decry federal spending (at least when it comes to social programs and anything that helps ordinary citizens) and want to shove their narrow evangelical Christianism down everyone’s throat. On the other side are discontented and outraged voters, sick and tired of the “business-as-usual” status quo, who support “outsiders” like Trump, Fiorino and Carson in hopes that they might shake things up. In Congress itself, the battle lines are being drawn between Republicans hoping to reach a compromise with President Obama and those who would happily shut down the government (again!), hurting millions of Americans, if their full demands are not met.

Boehner himself is hoping to avert a government shutdown. He is willing to reach across the aisle to his Democratic colleagues in order to stop it from happening. At the moment, the Senate is considering a continuing resolution  that would keep the federal government operating until December 11th. The House will be taking it up next week, assuming it passes in the Senate. Boehner is optimistic: “I expect my Democrat colleagues want to keep the government open as much as I do,” he says. Boehner also plans to work with his Democratic colleagues to raise the debt ceiling and reauthorize the Export-Import Bank – neither of which are popular with GOP hard-liners.

And what happens when Boehner steps down at the end of October?

While it’s not a done deal, Boehner’s heir apparent is Representative Kevin McCarthy of California’s 23rd District. Fans of the Netflix series House of Cards will be interested to know that actor Kevin Spacey spent a great deal of time with McCarthy in preparing for his role as the Machiavellian politician Frank Underwood. If you are familiar with the show, that should give you some indication of  what we’re in for, should McCarthy take over for Boehner.  McCarthy has signed a pledge with the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity organization, vowing to fight any climate-change legislation that might raise taxes on corporations. He is also against a woman’s right to choose and has voted to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act every time the issue has come up.

One thing is certain: the tension between GOP hard-liners and moderates is going through the roof. It remains to be seen if a victor will emerge from this conflict – or if the two sides will annihilate each other altogether.

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.