Karl Rove, in a column published in the Wall Street Journal last Wednesday, titled “Boehner Plays A Weak Hand Well,” praised House Speaker John Boehner’s leadership style and “Plan B” proposal, which he pulled on Thursday because it lacked Republican votes.
The day after the former George W. Bush adviser’s piece was published, Republicans put Boehner’s Speakership in jeopardy by refusing to symbolically vote for his plan, which raised the tax rate on those making over $1 million a year without any spending cuts. In so doing, House Republicans rejected the leadership style favored by Republicans like Rove and political operatives who came of age during the 2000s, including Boehner.
In the piece, which appeared on the same day Boehner prematurely claimed he had enough votes to get “Plan B” through the House, Rove claims Boehner was “the adult in charge” who “denied” Obama the “easy target” the President thought he would have after his 2012 election win. Boehner accomplished this, Rove asserted, by undercutting the “White House’s strategy of attacking congressional Republicans as do-nothing troglodytes” and keeping Republicans “unified in a situation with no easy or obvious answers.”
However, conservatives in the party claim Boehner did not keep Republicans unified when he purged conservatives from key committees, made offers to the White House without first consulting members of his own conference, and put Republicans on the defensive by publicly conceding higher taxes in the very first round of negotiations.
Because of Boehner’s actions, conservatives felt the Speaker may have been working against their interests.
While conservative Republicans regret failing to articulate their position for lower taxes, seeing that principle as a winning issue in public debate, Rove felt this would have been a bad thing. He explained that not capitulating on tax rates would put Republicans “on the defensive, trying to explain why they let taxes increase on everyone just to protect higher-earning Americans.”
Then, Rove wrote that even after four years of broken campaign promises from Obama and a record of intense partisanship, Republicans had every reason to trust the President would live up to his campaign promises and negotiate with Republicans in good faith.
Rove wrote that since Obama pledged “$2.50 in spending cuts for every dollar in revenue increases,” there was “some reason for optimism,” and establishment Republicans in the GOP leadership like Eric Cantor and Kevin McCarthy “who meet regularly to discuss” options “shared” this optimism.
Instead of waiting to for Obama’s initial offer to see if Obama would actually negotiate in good faith, though, Boehner and House Republicans decided to concede higher taxes before Obama offered them a concrete proposal to avert the fiscal cliff, giving leverage and trust Obama had not earned from his past negotiations. This is why Obama allegedly told Boehner, according to the Wall Street Journal, that he did not need to offer concessions for the first $800 billion in tax revenues Boehner put on the table, saying he gets that “for free.”
Still, Rove praised “Plan B” because he felt the vote would absolve Republicans of blame if the country had gone over the so-called fiscal cliff and concluded by praising Boehner showing leadership by playing a “weak hand adroitly”:
It’s impossible to know how this Washington drama will end, but Speaker Boehner has played a weak hand adroitly. He’s been reasonable, even creative, and so far kept his caucus behind him. He will rightly be judged on what he eventually agrees (or doesn’t agree) to. But so far he’s shown leadership that has been lacking elsewhere in Washington–especially at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
The next day, Boehner’s caucus imploded, with moderates and conservatives refusing to vote for tax increases that they felt the Senate and the White House would have rejected anyway. Congressional Republicans, unlike many who went along with Rove and GOP leadership the last decade on government-expanding programs like “No Child Left Behind” and the prescription drug benefit, refused to do so this time.
The failure of Plan B this week may have signaled the beginning of the end of an era dominated by those in the Republican establishment-permanent political class complex.