Sunday, September 27, 2015

Life without John Boehner

Upon seeing an interview with Rep. John Boehner on “60 Minutes” after the 2010 midterm election, I knew he’d be in over his head. Boehner, then in line to become Speaker of the House, seemed to be talking out both sides of his mouth.

In one sense, I understand that because I think he understood his role — to try to govern the country and yet manage the then-ascendant Tea Party caucus, which would have been a difficult balancing act given the contempt that the caucus has for anyone who doesn’t share its views.

That Boehner announced last week that he was stepping down from Congress at the end of next month is thus less a reflection on him than on the tea-party movement, which is apparently more interested in doctrinal purity than running the country. It’s thus safe to say that he’s not so much failed in the end as set up to fail from to outset.

Keep in mind, however, that he won’t be the first victim.

That mindset, which first came about in the early 1980s, never had any interest in compromise to keep the country moving; it simply wanted its way. That came to light when Bill Clinton became president in 1993 and the right, fueled in large part by talk-radio, did its best to overturn the two elections simply because he didn’t support its goals.

Which explains Newt Gingrich.

Gingrich, who became speaker in 1995 after spending his Congressional career in the late 1970s as a backbencher, was likely seen as someone who would defeat Clinton — that’s why he ascended to that leadership post in the first place. Trouble was, Clinton was seen as outfoxing Gingrich on the 1995 budget that resulted in two government shutdowns, and while on an agenda level Gingrich won, he lost the public relations battle and Clinton was reelected with relative ease, effectively ending Gingrich’s political career. (He left Congress after he directed the Republican Party to spend heavily on anti-Clinton ads focusing on his upcoming impeachment — and the GOP subsequently lost five seats in the House.)

That history is why I see a post-Boehner House being immediately more fractious than before. And depending on how the Tea Party caucus behaves, his successor won’t have that post for very long.

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