A postmortem on the speakership of John Boehner

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 11:  U.S. Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) (R) wipes tear as House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) (L) looks on during a ceremony to award the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to Constantino Brumidi July 11, 2012 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Brumidi was awarded with the medal for his many artistic contributions to the United States Capitol.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
John Boehner has resigned. This comes with certain blessings and certain problems.

So before we anoint a new speaker and start backing them or not, we should probably take a look at what John Boehner did wrong what he did right and what he should’ve done.

The things he did right

John Boehner was not a terrible Republican.  He voted consistently conservative, he advocated conservative ideals, and he even in the in the mold of Newt Gingrich tried to make compromises with a president he had nothing in common with.
In a previous era we might rank his skill up there with Tip O’Neil as being able to direct a staged and limited withdrawal in the face of a strong opponent in the White House and Senate (of course post-Newt, we know you don’t just have to stage a managed retreat even when you only control part of the government).

And let’s not forget he was crucial in getting the Benghazi hearings.  So give the devil his due.

The things he did wrong and what we need to learn from this

The problem is that Boehner also made too many compromises with his opposition and not enough with his own party.  There is no denying that John Boehner made far, far too many compromises, but that wasn’t the real problem.

No his main problems had to do with the media, vision, and management style—or in short: the problem is that he didn’t know how to be a leader.  It’s one thing to be a good Republican congressman, to vote conservative, to put forward conservative bills, to not slit your party’s throat when you have a press conference.  John Boehner could do that. What he couldn’t do was be a leader and you saw this throughout his entire career as Speaker.

A leader would have gotten out there every day and used the media to his advantage—and don’t tell me that conservatives can’t use the media…even in the days before the Internet Newt Gingrich showed us how to do this. In the 90’s Gingrich would consistently not just hold the weekly press conferences, which we all know the press ignores (with was what Boehner did…Yeah he put the video of that conference up on YouTube every week but nobody knew about it or care.) Newt actually knew how to get his people out there and market the ideas.   Granted some in the party have been working to get their ideas out there, most notably Paul Ryan, but it’s not the job of individual members to be the face of the party. It’s the job of the Speaker to be the face of the party–and Boehner could never do that.  He was not a media personality, he didn’t know how to deal with the press, he didn’t know how to sell an idea, and when he got up in front of the camera, let’s be honest, his most memorable moments involve crying (I said memorable, not good, those moments were quite frankly embarrassing).

The next speaker, likely McCarthy, needs to be someone who can handle the media who can get out there on all the talk shows, be out there every week, and be hammering the legislation home. They need to be showing the American people that the Republican Party isn’t just there as a placeholder, but actually has ideas and it’s actually putting things forth that will improve the nation.  For instance, did you know that the house regularly passes bills to overturn Obamacare? They did. They actually did.  They regularly sent bills to overturn Obamacare, granted they always died in the Senate, but the House did what we wanted them to do.  Did you ever see Boehner hyping that point?  Did you ever see him out there week after week after week talking about what we were doing?  Explaining that once again we overturned Obamacare and once again it was the Democrats who stopped us, and once again it is the Democrats that are ruining America. No, you never did because Boehner failed to use the media. Another good example is the Trade Promotion Authority–this was an excellent bill that will expand free trade, it actually limited Obama’s powers, and it’s in the best interest of capitalism…but Boehner as the face the party didn’t go out and make the case for this bill. He let the Populists and the Liberals go out there and tell America how terrible it was.  They repeated all the old lies that free trade will get rid of American jobs, that free trade will raise prices, that free trade will hamper our liberties. None of this is true!  But because Boehner, the face of the party, was not out there making the case for TPA and free trade, the other side was allowed to have free reign to spread a bunch of horseshit.

This is not 1850; you have to be able to use the media to get your point across. And Boehner could never do that.  He let stupid members become the face of the party, and they went out there and said ‘if you elect us we will overturn Obamacare!,’  Well you can’t do that because unless you have two thirds of the House and Senate you can’t overturn Obamacare without Obama’s approval.  So that’s not going to happen, but the idiots who don’t understand the government Madison set up and how it’s separation of powers works went out and preached drivel, and the whole party suffered for it.  This can’t happen again.  The next speaker needs to not just get in on all the cable shows and all the Sunday shows and have a have a major presence on Twitter, on YouTube, on tumblr, on Pinterest, on Facebook and effectively make the case for the Republican party and our ideas.  They have to use the media to our advantage, they have to establish a rapport, they have to establish trust and they have to establish a case with the American people, Boehner never did that.

Which leads us to another major problem of the Speaker who didn’t want to be Speaker: he didn’t establish a legislative goal.  He had no vision, yeah we all love hearing Paul Ryan put out his budget plan and his tax reforms and all that stuff he has, but Paul Ryan is not the head of the Republican Party in the House. It was Boehner’s job to come up with a legislative vision, just as back in the 90’s Gingrich and Dole had the Contract with America. The biggest mistake we as a party ever made is we did not continue with the idea of the Contract. The Contract with America was great because it said to the American people: this is exactly what we’re going to do, and we will put these 10 bills forward, and we are going to pass these in the House and we are going to try and get them through the Senate and then it’s up to the Present to sign or veto them, and then once he comes back to us with a veto we will try and override that. That symbol that says that yes these are 10 things that we will do, and we promise that we will do them and you can see that we carried it as far as we could until the Democrats stopped us; these 10 things represent the larger ideals that we will defend and push.  No, that never happened, all we got was we will do something, we will stop Obama, with no explanation how we would do that and this let the media ramp up the public’s expectations well beyond what Congress can Constitutionally do.
It doesn’t’ mean we need to win on every piece of legislation the idea of a new Contract with America–largely didjohn-boehner-cryingn’t win—but it was a success because we tried on all the points. We need to keep that up and show that we do stand for conservative policies in all areas and we will push for them because if you don’t, you let the kooks on the fringe of the Left and the Right define what you are.  The Left saying we are a bunch of people who hate the poor and the kooks on the Right saying or a bunch of weak willed idiots who will cower over everything, when that is not the truth.

And of course this brings up the fact that as much as I hate Populists and this rather inept Freedom Coalition they are, partly if not completely, Boehner’s fault. A leader knows how to deal with large groups and actually lead them. Boehner did not do that at all, he wasn’t even a barely competent manager.  All he did was sit back and allow himself to appear weak, and in the void that he left out came the lunatic fringe (they’re only a small portion of the Republican Party but they gather all the attention) because they say they’ll fight. It doesn’t matter that their policies are so far beyond what anything a conservative would ever conceive of, they play the theater that people want to see, they “fight” because people like Boehner did not come up with a legislative agenda and didn’t push it in the media. But it’s more than that; it’s also because Boehner didn’t try to work with his own people.  I’m not saying that all the people who are like Cruz in the House are intelligent, they’re not, Populists are often the dumbest people in any group, but they’re still part of your party, and Boehner did nothing to work to build a coalition within the Republican Party.  A good leader would’ve worked with them, or at the very least thrown them a bone from time to time and made a big deal about it, he would have gone to them and said “you have these 10 things that you want, I can’t give you all of them, pick your top two we will put them forward, we will vote on them and we all know it will die in the Senate, but we will try.”  But just like Michael Steele is partly responsible for the creation of the ineptitude that is the Tea Party, because rather than work with them and bring them into the fold, Boehner created his own populist uprising because he would not work with anyone. In his management style he was as authoritarian as Obama, without having the media savvy and legislative priorities that Barry has.

Now I don’t want to give in to the Ted Cruz/Freedom Coalition side of the party, their policies are bereft of logic, will not work, and will actually be bad for the country because they’re not conservative.  However, they get to seem conservative because they’re actually willing to go out and work with the media to say that they fight. The next Speaker has to work with that side, he does have to show that their priorities are at least being listened to, that of their top 10 priorities we need to give them two or three in every legislative session.

We need to show that we are in the big tent party, we will listen, and we will put these things up for votes, and if we do we; we don’t have to worry when it gets to the point of absolute insanity of your lunatic fringe demanding we shut down the government over every petty thing.   And this is because we will have made the case and shown that our set of plans will work, and the populist fringes will not, because we have a legislative vision and because we have made the case to the public.  The Populist fringe will go back to being that, the fringe that no one listens to.

Now I don’t know a lot about McCarthy (at least whether or not he can step up to the responsibility), and I don’t know for sure that he will be the new Speaker, but whoever takes that job has to have a legislative goal, express it to the media, and work with the entire party to make sure that every side feels that they are at least being listened to.  In other words they cannot be John Boehner.

Oh and they need not to cry at every single press conference.120712_boehner_crying_reu_328_605


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