John Boehner: The Right Man, at the Wrong Time

Boehner with gavel AP

Following the stunning news that Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) will resign after October, Democrats will feign empathy and argue that he was a victim of extremist Tea Party conservatives in the Republican caucus. In reality, Boehner is a victim of President Barack Obama’s aggressive brand of politics, for which he had no response.

Boehner is a deal-maker, accustomed to give-and-take. Obama is a radical ideologue who rejects any compromise.

Boehner is a decent man, with unequalled political skill in the back rooms of Capitol Hill. He rose to power as a function of his seniority within the depleted Republican minority.

As a more vigorous opposition arose with the Tea Party, conservatives questioned whether a more energetic, combative leader might be found. Eric Cantor, who led the fight against the 2009 stimulus, was often mentioned. (He would later fall out of favor over immigration.)

The signal achievement of Boehner’s four years in the Speaker’s chair is the Budget Control Act, the compromise that ended the 2011 debt ceiling crisis. Boehner wanted a “grand bargain” over long-term spending, but Obama–to the his aides’ horror–made that impossible with a last-minute demand for tax hikes.

Conservatives trusted Boehner and gave him their votes to avert a default. They stood with him against Obama’s attempts to cancel the “sequester.”

But Boehner began to lose control when his “Plan B” for resolving the 2012 “fiscal cliff” was rejected by the caucus. He ought to have resigned, but hung on–partly because there was no alternative. (The joke was: “Those who will, can’t; those who can, won’t.”)

Compromise followed compromise, and the defunding fight over Planned Parenthood was the last straw.

Boehner leaves with honor, but disappointment–the right man, at the wrong time.


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