It should be of interest to every American when the second person in line to the Presidency resigns his position. And contrary to what most contend was the impetus behind Speaker John Boehner’s resignation both from the Speakership and from Congress, he may not have been at ideological odds with a faction of his party members in the House, but at tactical odds with them. This realization makes for some potent lessons that should not be lost on the GOP, especially congressional leadership, in the wake of this historical event.
John Boehner was first elected to Congress in 1990. He represented Ohio’s 8th Congressional District, a conservative suburban stronghold between Cincinnati and Dayton. In 1993 he was instrumental in promoting the Contract with America, a platform based on Ronald Reagan’s legacy, which was spearheaded by then-House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich. That Contract was instrumental in the Republican Party’s historic midterm election victory in 1994, which gave the GOP a majority in both the House, and the Senate for the first time since 1952, the year Dwight D. Eisenhower was elected President.
Boehner was the House Minority Leader during the critical midterm 2010 election cycle, and played a significant role in galvanizing conservative forces across the country with his resurrection of Gingrich’s Contract with America. Boehner’s 2010 version was called a “Pledge to America,” which featured promises to stop tax increases; to end the maligned Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP); to “roll back government spending to pre-stimulus, pre-bailout levels”; repeal and replace Obamacare; require congressional approval for any regulation that would have more than a $100 million impact on the economy; and require “specific constitutional authority” for every bill that was to be introduced.
In short, the Pledge addressed many of the concerns that grassroots conservatives across the country had with the socialistic agenda of the Obama administration. It appeared that the Republican congressional leadership understood the threats to the republic, were prepared to push back against the socialist onslaught of the Constitution, and would expend every effort to do so. After all, that was their “Pledge.”
And there was no better salesman for the Pledge than the Community Organizer in Chief, residing at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Across the land, conservatives recognized his agenda to be the antithesis of what the American republic was designed to be. And Boehner, capitalizing on the angst that the president engendered, rode the wave to a 63 seat gain by Republicans in the House, making it the largest swing election since 1938. Six seats were gained in the senate as well, and Republicans gained 680 seats in state legislatures, and took 11 governorships from Democrat control. It was a landmark landslide election for Republicans, determined mostly by independent voters unimpressed with the direction the country was headed.
It seems in retrospect that Boehner either was unable or unwilling to stand by his Pledge, for none of the promises were kept. And the only ones in a position to ensure that they did come to fruition were the Republican leadership in both the House and Senate, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And in a way, Boehner actually may have portended his own demise as Speaker, when he lachrymosely described the GOP loss of control in 2006, “Our team failed to live up to our own principles.” Ditto for the past five years.
To his credit, perhaps, the House has voted over 50 times, with slightly varying language, to repeal Obamacare, the misnamed Affordable Care Act. The problem is that all of them were only of symbolic value, and apparently were intended to create the pretense they were doing something about the albatross around the neck of the nation’s healthcare apparatus. Nothing they voted on would pass muster with the Senate which would require at least 60 votes for cloture, and certainly there would be insufficient support in either chamber to sustain an inevitable Obama veto.
What a Boehner-led House could have, and arguably should have done, was to utilize the power of the purse that is the exclusive domain of the chamber. They could exercise that power from the funding of the ACA to the defunding of Planned Parenthood, but they have not used that constitutional authority that only the House possesses. The reason is likely due to the ability of the press and Obama to shape the narrative, by blaming the House for not getting a “clean” spending bill without the caveats demanded by the more conservative members.
That’s how we will know if we have a viable leader of the House to replace Boehner; if he or she is able to reshape legislative arguments in a way that wins in the court of public opinion, rather than how the mainstream media and the President couch it in their favor. Ronald Reagan had that ability, and arguably, Newt Gingrich did as well. After all, Newt was able to get Bill Clinton to agree to welfare reform, and led him to declare, “the era of big government is over.” None of which would have been possible without a Speaker whose actions mirrored his convictions, and who could shape the argument convincingly.
Perhaps even more significantly, for the more conservative GOP House members, Boehner controlled the caucus with a heavy top-down management style. The conservatives are forcing consideration of a bottom-up management style; fed up with leadership telling them how to vote. Who could blame them?
Until the GOP recaptures the White House, it’s more critical than ever that the party stand firmly on the principles that it declares sacrosanct in the official platform, and that their congressional leadership lead accordingly, utilizing their unique constitutional authority. Future House efficacy, and perhaps even the future of Republican congressional majorities, hinges directly on how the Speakership vacancy is resolved.
Associated Press award winning columnist Richard Larsen is President of Larsen Financial, a brokerage and financial planning firm in Pocatello, Idaho and is a graduate of Idaho State University with degrees in Political Science and History and coursework completed toward a Master’s in Public Administration. He can be reached at [email protected].