Political Hay

Scott Walker for Speaker of the House

It's time for a change: a Reagan not a Ford should lead the House GOP. Clearly John Boehner is not up to it.

By 11.13.12

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"The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers."
-- Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution

Enough.

Enough. Enough. Enough.

It's time for conservatives to challenge John Boehner for Speaker of the House.

With Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

Yes, it can be done. And there is a way to do it, more of which in a minute.

But first, the question: why replace John Boehner?

What's the problem?

John Boehner is not a conservative. He's a Washington deal maker. An Inside-the-Beltway guy in the mold of all those Republican House Minority Leaders who led (kept?) the House GOP in minority status for 40 long years between 1954 and 1994 -- when a bold Newt Gingrich finally led the charge that broke the liberal grip on the House. Boehner is House Minority Leader Gerald Ford or Bob Michel all over again.

To wit, this Boehner exchange with ABC's Diane Sawyer the other day:

SAWYER: A couple of other questions about the agenda now. You have said next year that you would repeal the healthcare vote. That's still your mission?

BOEHNER: Well, I think the election changes that. It's pretty clear that the president was reelected, Obamacare is the law of the land. 

Or this from Boehner, as reported by the AP the day after the election:

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner offered Wednesday to pursue a deal with a victorious President Barack Obama that will include higher taxes "under the right conditions" to help reduce the nation's staggering debt and put its finances in order.

Or this story in Sunday's New York Times headlined:

Boehner Tells House G.O.P. to Fall in Line

 Reads the beginning of the story: 

WASHINGTON -- On a conference call with House Republicans a day after the party's electoral battering last week, Speaker John Boehner dished out some bitter medicine, and for the first time in 112th Congress, most members took their dose."

 ….It was a striking contrast to a similar call last year, when Mr. Boehner tried to persuade members to compromise with Democrats on a deal to extend a temporary cut in payroll taxes, only to have them loudly revolt.

Then there was this Boehner statement:

Mr. President, this is your moment. We're ready to be led not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. We want you to lead not as a liberal or a conservative, but as the president of the United States of America. We want you to succeed. Let's challenge ourselves to find the common ground that has eluded us.

So the fight to repeal Obamacare stops dead? The GOP becomes complicit in tax increases that will ruin the economy? Confronting Obama on energy and immigration and the growth of government and all the rest is now dismissed? Knowing full well that then-candidate Senator Obama said in 2008 he didn't care if a lower capital gains tax rate brought in more revenue, he would look to raising them anyway out of fairness -- how can any conservative Speaker possibly say "we want you (Obama) to succeed"??? 

President Obama's goal is to make of America a government-centered nation. And the response from Speaker Boehner is "we want you to succeed"?

This is leadership????

Mark Levin has hit the nail on the head in telling me:

"Boehner is an old-time, worn out mush Republican who is incapable of promoting or even articulating a liberty agenda. We must replace the current Republican leadership with statesmen and fast. They have fear and loser written across their foreheads."

Fear smells. And conservatives across the land are smelling the political fear emanating from the Speaker's office.

Mark also said: 

"We lost the presidency, which was the great setback for our nation. Yet we held the House fairly easily and only lost two Senate seats. Even in Obama's case he received millions less votes. Boehner interprets this as a mandate for Obama and liberalism. He's not fighting or leading. He's dragging what little resistance is left in the GOP down the cliff. Far more damage will be done to the nation and the GOP than ought be done with this kind of quisling behavior.

"He must go.

"And you can quote me."

Done.

Boehner's appalling views can be summed up in a one word description: Surrender. As the Times notes, he tried the same cave-in routine last year! The House Republicans may have won a resounding re-election the other week. But… hey… who cares? Speaker Boehner, in the spirit of all those Republican House Minority Leaders from the 40 years when House Republicans were in the political wilderness, sees his role as doing deals with Democrats and then playing golf with the President.

If John Boehner had been leading Britain in May of 1940, all of England would now be speaking German.

What Speaker Boehner is doing here is the old moderate Republican shuffle that just failed yet another moderate Republican presidential nominee -- again (make that again and again and again). Only days ago Mitt Romney was crisscrossing battleground states saying how he would work with Democrats, how bipartisan he intended to be.

What happened?

Three million Republican votes vanished on election day. Say again… three million Republicans who had voted for John McCain in 2008 refused to follow Romney's closing argument of bipartisanship. It was the presidential version of the GOP loss of the House in 2006 -- when angry Republican voters took out their wrath over a once-reform minded GOP Congress sliding into Washington insiderdom. Sending the House GOP packing and letting Nancy Pelosi have her run of the place. After all, why go for the cheap copy when you can have the real thing?

Three points. And context.

Point One: What John Boehner is doing here is exhibiting a classic case of the Inside-the-Beltway GOP moderate mindset. Despite receiving a mandate from voters, Boehner is set to make the mistake that always confuses cooperation with compromise. Let's go back a ways to show how this perpetual losing game works.

More people today probably remember the late President Gerald Ford for his presidency than the bulk of his career as a Michigan Congressman and House Minority Leader. Ford's real ambition was never to be president -- it was to be Speaker of the House. He never made it. Why? Because as House Minority Leader he did exactly the same thing John Boehner is doing today -- racing as far from conservative principle as possible.

What was Ford's idea of how to lead the House Republicans?

He wrote it all up in his memoirs years later, saying this: 

Since 1960, the party had swung to the right. Zealots had taken over key positions and they seemed to believe it was more important to nominate a candidate who was ideologically pure than to find someone who could win an election… I wondered how we could best restrain the flood of Great Society legislation that would be coming our way soon.… I (was) viewed as the more liberal of the two candidates (the other being incumbent Leader Charlie Halleck)…. Ever since Kennedy had become President in 1961, House Republicans had been on the defensive.… We simply had no right to shout "No, no, no" unless we had come up with better solutions….

What were Ford's "solutions"? Notice a key word that Ford used. The word is "restrain" -- as used in this sentence: "I wondered how we could best restrain the flood of Great Society legislation that would be coming our way soon." Jerry Ford wasn't about defeating the Great Society -- staking out the conservative principles involved and fighting for them. He was about restraining, moderating. His "solutions" revolved around more of the same as LBJ's Great Society -- only, in Ford's words "better, less costly, more practical ideas" on federal aid to education, national health insurance, and yes, one of these "better" ideas was a tax increase.

What happened? How did the House GOP fare when they simply rolled over for the liberal agenda and offered Ford's "restrain" approach? The Republican membership of the House merely kept on ebbing and flowing for another thirty years! With Ford and his successors playing the Inside-the-Beltway game until Newt Gingrich arrived in the late 1970s. Gingrich realized instantly that something akin to Stockholm Syndrome seemed to be holding House Republican Leaders in a trance. Being the Republican Leader meant going-along-to get along, copying Democrats by offering some version of the same programs except less so, followed by rounds of golf with the Democrats' Speaker of the moment. 

Worse -- infinitely worse -- House Republicans became complicit in running up the deficit and constantly expanding the size of government. Just a little less so, but of course.

It was a losing hand all around. Tellingly Ford tried to replicate the pattern when he became president. Appointing liberal GOP Governor Nelson Rockefeller of New York as his vice president, Ford set about being the perfect moderate GOP president. He appointed the liberal John Paul Stevens to the Supreme Court. He had not the slightest intention of winning the Cold War, preferring instead to recognize the Soviets as moral equals of America and just continue the same old, same old of negotiating endlessly with them.

More to the political point: He kept right on deriding conservatives once in the White House, Ronald Reagan included. After insisting that Reagan was too extreme to win a presidential election Ford lost to Jimmy Carter. But even in retirement he never ceased to insist that moderation was the future of the GOP, warning in a 1979 speech aimed at Reagan that "Neither government by nostalgia nor government by ideological reflex will meet America's needs…"

The fact? As long as House Republicans paid attention to this hooey they never ran the House until the Gingrich Revolution. Not once. And when they listened to more of this hooey during the reign of the moderate Denny Hastert -- they promptly lost it again.

Point Two: How did Ronald Reagan win the Cold War? It certainly wasn't because he listened to all those sage moderates who said he needed to be nice to the Soviets. Who insisted he needed to accept détente and the reality the Soviet Union was here to stay for ever and ever. Reagan won the Cold War because he ignored all the siren songs of the Washington insiders. His idea was simple: "We win, they lose." The Soviets lie and cheat, he said boldly at his first press conference. He cut the Soviet Ambassador off from his privileged status at the State Department and treated him like any other Ambassador -- stunning Washington. He gave yet another speech and called the Soviets "an evil empire" -- sending Washington's insiders running for the smelling salts. All of that on top of jacking up defense spending, building a 600-ship Navy and launching the Strategic Defense Initiative.

In the end, Reagan pushed the Soviets onto the ash heap of history.

Point Three: Why are Points One and Two relevant here? What John Boehner is doing is playing Gerald Ford's game. The Washington Insider Game. The old Me-Too game. The Dime Store New Deal Game. The game of accepting the liberal premise -- i.e., the Soviet Union is here to stay forever -- and simply rolling over for it. Politically speaking it is as gutless as it is worthless.

The end effect of this game is the same as it was in Gerald Ford's days as Minority Leader. To give Republican support to the idea of expanding the State -- and taking even more resources to do so. An idea that now, it comes clear to more and more daily, has America on the road to bankruptcy as a Chinese colony.

This is decidedly the next chapter in the increasingly dire argument about liberty or tyranny. Is the conservative party going to stand as a beacon showing the way forward to what Reagan called the shining city upon a hill? An economically prosperous, energy-independent nation bursting with free markets and opportunities for all in its colorblind society?

Or will the GOP wobble, to use a word Margaret Thatcher once made famous, and meekly surrender to the false idol of a mythical left-wing utopia that has never existed and will never exist? A "utopia" that in practice makes of America a jobless, whiny, racist, weak debtor nation

Underneath all the brass tacks language of Capitol Hill and Washington insider politics, what Boehner is actually about here -- as were Ford and all those GOP Minority Leaders of the Lost 40 Years from 1954 to 1994 -- is surrendering to the lethal nonsense of the mythical and quite deadly liberal utopia. To be hypnotized by the present. Politically paralyzed, unwilling to believe themselves capable to shape a very different future.

Boehner is letting the utopians advance, to borrow from Levin's Ameritopia,"…through gradualism rather than revolution," reselling the fools gold of "reforming and improving the existing society's imperfections and weaknesses without imperiling its basic nature…(by a) transformation (that) is deemed innocuous, well-intentioned, and perhaps constructive but not a dangerous trespass on fundamental liberties." 

House Republicans have been led down this path repeatedly -- never to any good for the country much less their own political benefit.

There is not a shred of leadership here. Boehner is bidding to be Ford when the GOP needs a Reagan or a Churchill. Someone willing to carry the fight against liberty and tyranny right straight to Obama -- and not flinch.

Are Members concerned about losing their seats? With Romney's loss of 3 million 2008 Republicans freshly in mind, it's safe to say their own base will deal with them straight-up in 2014 if they abandon conservative principle. And as with 2006 -- it won't be pretty.

If they don't stand up and fight, there will be a whole lot more lost than a mere seat in the U.S. House.

Like the country.

SO. WHAT TO DO? The U.S. Constitution makes it plain in Article I, Section 2. The Speaker of the House of Representatives does not have to be a member of the House.

The Speakership and the House are analogous to the role of a presidential nomination and delegates to a national convention. While only delegates can nominate a president on the floor of a convention, the delegates themselves are elected via primaries (like New Hampshire) or caucuses (like Iowa.) And in a convention fight, the delegates are openly courted and pressured by everyone from the opposing campaigns to their hometown supporters who elected them in the first place.

For most of American history, national political conventions in both parties were knock-down, drag-out bare-knuckled political fights between party factions. While the vast increase in state primaries has pretty much knocked the wind out of these convention fights recently -- the fights now take place in the primaries and caucuses themselves -- it is still entirely possible that a tight primary race between two candidates could at any time reach the end of the primaries with no one in a majority.

The last time this happened was 1976, when the Ford-Reagan race went down to the wire and a roll call in Kansas City. Delegates were being furiously courted and pressured. In one drama-filled moment, the presumably pro-Reagan Mississippian Clarke Reed was so pounded by pressure from the Ford campaign that he relented and voted for Ford. Another, former Governor of North Carolina Jim Edwards, was angry that Reagan had selected Pennsylvania's Senator Dick Schweicker as his running mate were he to win the nomination -- and bolted to Ford.

The point? All of this kind of old fashioned politicking applies to the House of Representatives. In spades.

Were an outsider to be nominated for House Speaker it must be done by a House member -- just as only a convention delegate can nominate a presidential candidate at a GOP convention. But there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to stop an outsider from declaring their candidacy for Speaker and challenging Boehner. Setting up an impromptu campaign headquarters -- and then calling for the help of every conservative grass roots group in America to pressure House Republicans to nominate and elect that candidate for Speaker.

To get the financial backers of Members to call their own House members and ask them to vote for Boehner's opposition.

It's time for conservatives to take the opening provided by the Constitution itself and assert their constitutional privilege over the body that loves to call itself "The People's House." Note well: It is not called "The Members' House" -- it is called "The People's House."

It is time for conservatives to get an outsider, non-House member elected Speaker.

I nominate Scott Walker of the State of Wisconsin.

That's right. Governor Scott Walker.

Yes, if elected, Governor Walker would have to resign as governor.

And yes, I know Mark Levin raised the possibility back in June, as seen here.

Walker demurred.

But that was June. In June Mitt Romney was on the rise. Now, the election is gone. Romney lost.

House Republicans did not lose.

To the contrary, they won. They have a mandate directly from the voters to repeal Obamacare -- and the House controls the funding purse strings. All those busy bureaucrats at HHS busy infringing on the religious freedom of the Catholic Church? De-fund them. All those EPA bureaucrats busy making war on the American coal industry? Cut off their funding. House Republicans also have a mandate directly from the people not to raise taxes. Where is the Reagan-Kemp style plan to fight the looming Obama tax increases? The last thing House Republicans should be doing is turning their back on their own voters and instead submitting with docility to the tired-old-ideas agenda of a 1% president, the first time since 1916 that a president won re-election by a much smaller margin than his initial election.

A newly elected Speaker Walker would instantly be the man sitting across the Cabinet Room table from President Barack Obama. The man who took on the forces of liberalism head-on and defeated them -- the only sitting governor so-challenged to ever have emerged not simply victorious but by a larger margin than his initial election -- that would be the man now in charge of negotiating the nation's future with President Obama.

But just as important as having a candidate, whether that candidate is Walker or anyone else outside the House (and there should be only one so the anti-Boehner, pro-conservative-for-Speaker vote is not divided), would be the presence of grassroots conservative groups as well as the myriad of conservative financial backers.

The right candidate -- plus organization and money -- could produce a truly potent if unusual sight. A prominent non-member of the House campaigning for Speaker in various Republican districts around the country, with a suddenly re-energized and well-funded campaign taking the fight for a conservative Speaker not only to individual districts but to the Internet, talk radio and Fox.

Imagine it. A mini-presidential campaign, conducted in Republican-held congressional districts (and yes, even in some sympathetic Democratic districts as Democrats in the House also have a vote) between now and the convening of the next session of Congress in early January -- on the day the new Speaker is elected.

America has already had its first female Speaker of the House.

America has just re-elected its first black president. America is on its third female Secretary of State and has already had its first and second black Secretaries of State, one of them a woman. It has already been through its first Latino Attorney General and waits to see if the first black Attorney General will stay or move on.

Which is to say, there is a lot of enthusiasm abroad in the land for breaking old stereotypes. And one of the oldest stereotypes is that the Speaker of the House -- the third ranking member of the U.S. government behind the President and Vice-President -- must be a sitting member of the House.

It doesn't have to be so. It just has never been done. It's time for a change.

Conservatives have it in their power to make that change -- and sit one of their number face-to-face across the negotiating table from Barack Obama. As a direct result of a grassroots, bottom-up campaign.

To make a powerful statement about the political strength of their principles -- and make that statement in a bold and daring fashion.

What are they waiting for?

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.