Can Boehner Control the New Tea Party Congress?

The next House Speaker's challenge: bashing Obamacare while not repealing it

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The dapper, golf-loving, wine-swilling Minority Leader John Boehner was one of the first Republican leaders to understand that his party needed to harness the power of the Tea Party, the New Yorker's Peter Boyer explains. Only a couple hundred people were expected to show up at an anti-tax rally in Bakersfield, California, last year, but Boehner watched as thousands of angry Americans showed. "Back in Washington, Boehner reported what he’d seen to his Republican colleagues. While many Democrats and the mainstream media mocked the Tea Party, Boehner pressed his members to get out in front of the movement or, at least, get out of its way." Now Boehner has to lead the Tea Party Congress that he helped create.

The governing part is going to be trickier. "This is going to be probably the first really big adult moment" for the House Republicans, Boehner told Boyer.  Health care will surely bring about intraparty conflict. Boehner "knows what the base wants--an immediate, sustained effort to undo the entire Obama agenda. But the broader public ... might be repulsed by a reign of what would almost certainly be portrayed as radical Republicanism ... the country might see it as partisan vengeance," Boyer writes. "One possible course for Boehner is to continue his recent parroting of Tea Party rhetoric, while working to adjust the new members, over time, to the realities of their limited legislative power, and of the risk in seeming too radical."

How will this play out? Those reading the profile have a few ideas, as well as some gut reactions to the piece.

  • It's Boehner vs. the Young Guns, Joel Meares notes at Columbia Journalism Review. The most interesting part of Boyer's profile is when he "lays out the potential tensions between the new Speaker and a more agitated trio of ambitious young GOP-ers--Republican Whip Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan--co-authors of the book Young Guns, which is subtitled 'A New Generation of Conservative Leaders.'" He highlights "the difference in style, and to an extent, ideology, between them and the man whose lead they may or may not follow."
  • Score One for the Tea Party, The National Review's Daniel Foster notes. On Monday, Boehner endorsed Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake--whom Foster calls "the scourge of earmarkers everywhere"--on the House Appropriations committee. The move will "will send a strong signal that Boehner and House Republican leadership are committed to real reform."
  • It All Comes Down to Health Care, The Economist observes. "One of [Democrats'] big hopes is that the mid-term electoral successes of the tea-party movement will create a split in Congress between the incoming tea-leaning Republicans and the Republican establishment, exemplified for many by John Boehner, who will be the House speaker." Boyer's article "is going to be pored over for clues as to whether he will be able to manage his potentially unruly caucus." They won't find much, as Boehner was smart enough to notice the Tea Party trend. On the other hand, "The tea-partyers are adamant that Obamacare must be repealed, or at least (as the president has a veto) blocked or defunded. Since an old hand like Mr Boehner knows how difficult that will be, here is where the new speaker and the tea-partyers may indeed have to part company."
  • Social Issues Cannot Be Ignored, The Washington Post's Jennifer Rubin writes.
Some of the ostensibly sophisticated Republicans who have long wanted to toss social conservatives from the GOP coalition turned up their noses at the Tea Partyers. They tried to hustle upstarts like Marco Rubio out of the primaries. But the Tea Party rallied Republicans and independent voters around an agenda based on limited government. ... We make a mistake by labeling this a purely 'economic agenda,' however. ... [U]nderlying the Tea Party movement is a set of values--thrift, delayed gratification, personal responsibility, etc. Those are not what we have come to identify as 'social' issues, but these are not simply matters of dollars and cents.
  • How Far He's Come! New York's Dan Amira seizes on the biographical details in Boyer's story. A childhood friend explained that he spent a lot of time at the Boehner home, "and my one vivid memory of their house is that I've never, ever been there when there wasn't diapers hanging all over... If it was the summertime, diapers were hanging outside. If it was winter, the basement was full. It was just diapers." Amira marvels: "And now he's not only the most powerful Republican in Congress, but he drinks merlot exclusively and plays golf over 100 times a year. Well played, American dream."
  • Boehner Is Fixated on Being a Grownup, Jack Stuef writes at humor site Wonkette, only partly humorously. "John Boehner, who has very sensitive tear ducts, seems to be very worried he will be perceived as a child. ... John Boehner does not care about strategy, message, or public policy," Stuef deducts from the profile. "He only cares about seeming like this most adult person in the room. This makes him seem a bit insecure, and perhaps this is an outlook better suited to a precocious child than a statesman."
  • Boehner's Media Hat Trick  "The media are covering Boehner relentlessly," Nisha Chittal comments at Mediaite. "In the first two weeks of November, he has been featured on the cover of three major weekly magazines. Boehner was on the November 1st cover of Newsweek, and is now on the cover of the November 15th issue of TIME and shares the November 15th cover of the New Yorker with President Obama." He graced National Journal's October 30 issue, too.
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