Three years ago, in November of 2012, it was suggested here in this space that Speaker John Boehner be replaced. (Note: The article was re-run as a Flasback yesterday.) The suggestion was to replace him with an “outsider” as the Speaker of the House does not have to be a sitting member of the House. The outsider suggested was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The main point, however, was well beyond Speaker Boehner. The point, to quote again, was that too many Republicans are Fords (as in Gerald, a Boehner predecessor as House GOP Leader) and not Reagans.
Over the weekend, the Speaker took to the airwaves of CBS and decried what he called “false prophets” in the GOP, including, presumably, his own caucus. He alluded to his recent speech in which he called Senator Ted Cruz a “jackass.” CNN reported his Face the Nation interview this way (bold print for emphasis supplied):
Washington (CNN) John Boehner lashed out at “false prophets” in the right’s ranks, blaming them for political strategies that “never had a chance” even while taking the government into fiscal crises.
“Absolutely, they’re not realistic,” the retiring House speaker said of hard-line conservatives and outside groups in a Sunday interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”
He pointed to the October 2013 shutdown after conservative House Republicans demanded the repeal of President Barack Obama’s signature health care law as one maneuver — led by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — that was never going to succeed.
“The Bible says beware of false prophets. And there are people out there, you know, spreading noise about how much can get done. I mean this whole notion that we’re going to shut down the government to get rid of Obamacare in 2013 — this plan never had a chance,” Boehner said.
“But over the course of the August recess in 2013 and in September, a lot of my Republican colleagues who knew this was a fool’s errand — really, they were getting all this pressure from home to do this,” he said.
Boehner said conservative, Washington-based groups knew the goals they were championing couldn’t be accomplished but pressed for them anyway.
“And so, we’ve got groups here in town, members of the House and Senate here in town, who whipped people into a frenzy believing they can accomplish things that they know — they know — are never going to happen,” he said.
So. As he heads for the exit, a response is required. And we’re all too happy to oblige.
Dear Mr. Speaker,
Thanks you for your service. There’s nothing personal here.
Mr. Speaker, alas for the country and the Republican Party you were elected to Congress in November of 1990. Almost two years after the departure of President Reagan. Unfortunately this means you came of age in political Washington during the Bush 41 era. An era that marked the return of the GOP Establishment to power. Unfortunately, as a young congressman you learned all the worst habits of the GOP Establishment that were already on full display by the time of your election.
Barely a month after your election, an op-ed that foreshadowed the problems that drove you to resign your Speakership twenty-five years later appeared in the New York Times. Written by longtime conservative activist Richard Viguerie, the piece was headed:
Bush Loses the Right Wing: Searching for the next Reagan.
In part, Mr. Viguerie wrote this:
Conservatives believe that the GOP’s gains of the 1990’s largely resulted from the strategy of drawing a more definite ideological line between the Republicans and Democrats. The (Bush 41) Administration has assaulted that strategy and has offended ordinary voters, who are becoming aware of the constant insults offered to their way of life.
This was, in fact, President Reagan’s strategy exactly. As mentioned on occasion in this space, Reagan talked in general terms of his belief that the GOP’s problem was the “fraternal order” Republicans of the GOP Establishment who refused to stake out the “bold color” differences with opponents in favor of the “pale pastels” who believed in going along to get along, adopting the Left’s view of government only less so, seeking to blur differences rather than sharply illustrate them.
As an example, we frequently cite in this space the President’s veto of a $20 billion “Clean Water” bill by the Democrat-controlled House and Senate in 1987. There was no chance — none — that his veto would be sustained. Yet knowing that, Reagan summoned House GOP leaders to the White House and requested their support for his view that the bill was not about the environment — as Democrats claimed — but was in fact nothing but a mammoth porker, in Reagan’s phrase, “loaded with waste and lard.” He wrote in his diary about the moment, saying:
A meeting with Repub. Cong. Leadership. I pitched a plan that they stand together so that even with the Dem’s out voting us we can point out to the people how different the Dems & Repubs are. I don’t think they got the message. In the House today only 26 Republicans supported my Veto of the Clean Water bill.
On another occasion, Reagan referred to this timid mindset by saying his GOP allies on the Hill were “rabbits when we needed tigers.”
In other words, Mr. Speaker, once upon a time there was a Republican leader who understood — as Senator Ted Cruz understood exactly in the 2013 showdown over defunding Obamacare and the current battle over defunding Planned Parenthood — that yes, one has to draw a line in the sand so that, in President Reagan’s words, “we can point out to the people how different the Dems & Repubs are.”
This is a world away from the operating principles you have exhibited in your time in the Speaker’s chair. President Reagan famously had a sign on his desk that said as follows — the capital letters his. “It CAN be done.” As you have illustrated yet again in your remarks to John Dickerson, you are about the opposite — as when you said of conservatives (bold print supplied): “…the goals they were championing couldn’t be accomplished but pressed for them anyway.”
Yes, exactly. Following the example set by President Reagan himself, conservatives have understood the importance of standing on principle — and forcing President Obama to veto bills that illustrate the differences between the two parties.
The reason you have had such a difficult time in the Speaker’s post, sir, is that you clearly see the job as all about deal making rather than leading. In a New York Times article on your resignation there was this:
“There are anywhere from two to four dozen members who don’t have an affirmative sense of governance,” said Representative Charlie Dent, Republican of Pennsylvania.
“They can’t get to yes. They just can’t get to yes, and so they undermine the ability of the speaker to lead. And not only do they undermine the ability of the speaker to lead, but they undermine the entire Republican conference and also help to weaken the institution of Congress itself.”
The real problem illustrated by Congressman Dent’s remarks is that moderate Republicans can’t get to a Reagan-esque yes to limited government. In fact, they never could, whether the party was led by Thomas E. Dewey or Gerald Ford or the Bushes. Your “ability…to lead” as Mr. Dent describes it was hobbled not by being a leader but by the direction you were leading. The concept of standing up for conservative principle is not your thing and apparently never was. It is, for example, you who helped lead the charge for No Child Left Behind in the Bush 43 years — the exact opposite of abolishing the Department of Education, a conservative goal. Now, as documented here, the program is sucking up billions, the results are a mess, the Department of Education metastasizes and, of course, thanks to you it adds to the skyrocketing debt. There is nothing in the least “conservative” about this.
So you depart. To where is, of course, your business. I wish you well. But if in fact you are headed for a K Street job you will in fact validate what so many in the grassroots see as the central problem with the GOP Establishment you represent — that it is in fact nothing more than an arm of Washington lobbyists or, as Senator Cruz refers to it, the Washington Cartel.
I’m sorry it has come to this. You are certainly well-liked and with reason. But in fact the struggle you have faced is at the very core of the battles Ronald Reagan faced as president and well before that — and it is, needlessly yet again, the battle conservatives face right now.
As Tim Coyle, a former Kemp colleague of mine has reminded those of us who are anticipating a new book by Morton Kondracke and Fred Barnes (Jack Kemp: The Bleeding-Heart Conservative Who Changed America) our former boss used to say: “The purpose of politics is not to defeat your opponent as much as it is to provide superior leadership and better ideas than the opposition.”
As with Ronald Reagan, Jack Kemp was unafraid to lead boldly. To stand up even — make that especially — when he knew he was going to lose.
Therein lies the key difference between the politics of the fraternal order Republicans and the bold color Reagan conservatives in the Congress like Ted Cruz and Mark Meadows. Suffice to say, many conservatives have an entirely different perception of just who the “false prophets” inside the GOP really are.
Thanks for your time, and best wishes.
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