By Douglas Bloomfield
No party has a monopoly on whack jobs, but former Speaker of the House John Boehner makes a persuasive case that many of his fellow Republicans are working overtime to corner the market.
One of the more disturbing — though not particularly surprising —revelations in his recent memoir On the House: A Washington Memoir was that the 1998 impeachment of President Bill Clinton was unwarranted, but Boehner felt bullied into going along because House Majority Whip Tom DeLay convinced him that it would “win us all these House seats” in the next election.
GOP enthusiasm for removing a Democrat for lying about adultery did not extend to Republicans like the then-Speaker Newt Gingrich, who later confessed to cheating on both of his first two wives, his intended successor, Bob Livingston, and Henry Hyde, chairman of the Judiciary Committee which voted the articles of impeachment. DeLay’s strategy backfired and Democrats actually picked up five more seats, Boehner wrote. DeLay later resigned in a campaign finance scandal.
Misconduct Among Foes
When far more serious charges of sexual misconduct — including rape —were made by more than 20 women against former President Donald Trump, Republicans seemingly couldn’t care less. Their silence in the current investigation of Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz —begun by the Trump Justice Department — should be alarming. Only one of his GOP colleagues, a party outlier, Adam Kinzinger, has publicly called for his resignation. You don’t need to be clairvoyant to know that had much lesser charges been aimed at a Democrat, such as the controversy-entangled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the outrage and demands for resignation would be at a fever pitch as, indeed, they have been.
Boehner left Congress before Trump was elected. They played golf and spoke at times, but by 2018 Boehner was saying, ‘There is no Republican Party. There’s a Trump party.’
Criticisms Are Too Late
Today he accuses Trump of pushing a “bullshxt” lie “without any evidence” that the 2020 election was stolen; he said that Trump had incited the “bloody insurrection” on Jan. 6 “for nothing
more than selfish reasons.” It might have meant something had he said it earlier, but waiting until his book came out, similarly to former Trump national security advisor John Bolton, it has a bit of an odor.
Why didn’t he say such things when they could have made a difference, when he was at the peak of his power, instead of letting the Tea Party “whack jobs” and “insurrectionists” take over the asylum?
He confesses that the Tea Partiers controlled him rather than the other way around, as the speaker should. That’s his excuse. “They didn’t want legislative victories. They wanted wedge issues and conspiracies and crusades.” He comes across as weak, unlike the present speaker, Nancy Pelosi, who he characterized as ruthless and formidable.
The Growing Beast
Don’t get the impression Boehner was a neutral observer. He was one of Gingrich’s faithful lieutenants who, in the words of historian Julian Zelizer, “promoted a dangerous style of smash-mouth partisanship that ignored traditional norms of governance.”
Boehner admits today that partisanship, not reform, was the driving force as Republicans abandoned bipartisanship and civility in pursuit of power and “weaponized ethics rules” and the legislative process. Like Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, he reflexively opposed everything President Barack Obama proposed.
He was a leading player but soon the beast that he helped create and feed got even hungrier and the farther-rightwing Freedom Caucus that still dominates the House GOP drove him out in October 2015.
Neither he nor even Ronald Reagan could get elected in today’s Trump GOP, Boehner contends.
He called himself the “mayor” of “Crazytown,” which was “populated by jackasses and media hounds and some normal citizens.” In the former category he reserved the top spot for Sen. Ted Cruz (“reckless asshxle” and “Lucifer in the flesh”), Michele Bachmann (“lunatic”), Sarah Palin (“one of the chief crazies”), Trump (volcanic temper) and conservative talkers Sean Hannity, Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh. These stood out but were not alone in the “chaos caucus” that he said was fueled by “fawning right-wing media and outrage-driven fund-raising cash.
“The legislative terrorism that I’d witnessed as speaker had now encouraged actual terrorism,” he said.
Thanks For Nothing?
Gallup polling reveals the GOP is shrinking, opening the largest gap between the two parties in nearly a decade, with 49 percent of U.S. adults identifying with or leaning toward the Democratic Party compared to 40% for Republicans and their leaners. The GOP is a minority party that retains its grip on power not by public approval but by masterful gerrymandering and voter suppression.
Boehner’s book looks back on his 25 years in the House. It could be subtitled “Confessions of an Enabler” or “Profiles in Cowardice.” It raises some very important questions, starting with What the hell took you so damn long to speak up? Long after it is too late, he reveals what could and should have been done.