John Boehner's Circus
Previously published on Nov 12, 2010
In the wake of the dramatic 2010 GOP takeover of the House of Representative, Congressmen John Boehner faces a promotion that is both a blessing and a curse. Although he now has the power to present his Party's ideas directly to the American People, Senate Democrats and the President control how much of the Republican agenda can be enacted. As such, he is faced with two options; Republicans must either strive for effective, practical bipartisan governance or engineer a political upheaval in 2012 by painting President Obama as the cause of insurmountable gridlock and failed government. With the wind at their back, the GOP has thus far successfully framed the Obama era as one of government overreach, partisan politics, and failed policy, yet they proceed with the latter option at their own risk
Up to the 2012 election, John Boehner's role in the Republican revolution will be as the responsible, gallant leader of the GOP who is pursuing policy over politics with the Obama Administration and the Democrats standing in the way of good policies that will rebuild America. Senate Minority Mitch McConnell will be playing the role of saboteur whose first priority, by this own words, is to unseat the Democratic leadership. When Democrats have controlled the White House in the past, Republicans have effectively been able to disgrace Democratic Presidents with deadlock. Given their political success with this strategy in the first half of the Obama Administration, not counting the very controversial, major legislative achievements of the Nancy Pelosi lead Democrats, the GOP will likely continue this policy of gridlock. Unfortunately, this strategy now presents a major problem for Boehner.
Despite the overly affirmative rhetoric of Republicans, American voters were not voting Republican, because they want the Republican agenda. Americans primarily want the economy fixed, i.e. well paying jobs created, with no preference as how it should be done, but they also want their government to act like a proper government. If the Republican Party's goal is to undermine government in order to simply takeout Obama, they risk alienating their supporters and galvanizing lethargic Obama voters in 2012. Like many of the moderate and green Democrats who lost in 2010, moderate Republicans and GOP candidates recruited from the fringe of the Party will risk loosing their position. Whether or not the controversial Democratic legislation will serve our Country in the end, the process was not clean when change was supposed to come. Democrats had to pay the piper in order to make the process cleaner, but a misbehaved Republican Party must have the same treatment in 2012, if 2010 is to matter.
Walking the fine line between executing a political strategy and proving his Party's worth as a governing coalition is not Boehner's only threat. While the Republican House Speaker will be the face of the GOP, thus he will likely be held responsible for the misbehavior of individuals like Mitch McConnell, divisions within the Republican Party are jockeying for power. Young Guns like Republican Majority Leader Eric Cantor hunger for power. Not only does this produce an internal rivalry to Boehner's power, the Obama Administration could offer Cantor a stronger voice in the legislation process in order to force an internal vote of no confidence against Boehner and create a much more devilish opponent for 2012 and beyond. In many respects, this could help unplug the legislative process as well as force the GOP to shed its rigid command over its members, thus helping restore democratic order in Congress. Of course, the greatest internal threat to the Republican establishment is their new Tea Party caucus.
Many Tea Party representatives are either former insiders, whose survival depends upon hardliner, no excuses voters or they are fringe candidates, with political ties, who Republicans would have never considered viable candidates in a normal year. This means these people want their voices heard, but the Republican Party has long been one where members tow the party line. Unlike the Democrats, Republicans can normally force their members to vote a certain way, even when representatives deeply disagree with the Party's view. Where individual "mavericks" like John McCain have given the GOP headaches, Tea Party backed members will either risk their reelection or must be compelled to rebel. If Boehner cannot control his own Party, he will give House Democrats, still lead by very tactically capable individuals like Nancy Pelosi, an opportunity to undermine him.
The political upheaval of 2010 was not just a referendum on the Democratic leadership. It was a call to action against unresponsive government and the underhanded nature of Washington. Because Democrats were in charge and pushed through an agenda that angered Americans, while disenchanting many supporters, they were punished. Just as the GOP was punished in 2006 and 2008 for their failures as leaders, they too may well reap the consequences of another term ripe with dirty politics in 2012. John Boehner will be the face of the GOP for at least the next two years, but his job is not a simple one. Boehner must govern with a Democrat in the Oval Office and a Democratic controlled Senate while he must also pursue his Party's political agenda. He is a leader now and a political target with challenges coming from both his Right and his Left. For the sake of America, we can only hope he will lead the GOP to responsible governance instead of irresponsible political pandering.