Many in the media seem to think that establishment Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner’s troubles as a leader began when he punished a few junior members by stripping them of their committee assignments for sticking to their principles and voting against the House leadership once too often.
In reality, Boehner has long had a problematic relationship with conservatives and he has made it pretty clear that he just plain doesn’t like conservatives both inside and outside of government.
Despite being handed the Speaker’s gavel by the millions of grassroots conservative activists of the Tea Party movement, Boehner refers to conservatives as “knuckle-draggers” and told reluctant House conservatives to “get their ass in line” when he was putting together the so-called compromise that has created the “fiscal cliff” from which he is now trying to extricate himself.
This attitude has hobbled his ability to lead and has led to a destructive split in the House Republican conference that is doing real damage to the Republican brand.
The roots of Boehner’s antipathy toward conservatives are somewhat obscure, but many attribute it to conservative criticism of his leadership of the House Republican Conference in the 1990s when Republicans lost seats in the 1998 election and his work with Democratic Senator Ted Kennedy to pass the detested “No Child Left Behind” education legislation advocated by President George W. Bush.
Another major part of the problem is Boehner’s staff, which consists of long-time Capitol Hill establishment Republican political operatives, such as Chief of Staff Barry Jackson. Jackson has worked for Boehner off-and-on since Boehner came to Congress, leaving to serve as Karl Rove’s deputy in the Bush White House and later to run the Bush Office of Strategic Initiatives after Rove’s departure.
The bottom line is you can’t find an alumni of a principled movement conservative organization in Boehner’s senior staff, but you can find plenty of former lobbyists and Bush White House alums.
Whatever the reason or excuse, Boehner has systematically sought to neuter conservatives by excluding them from the inner counsels of the House leadership.
The result is that Boehner’s House leadership team is dangerously out of touch with the principled conservatives in his own House Republican Conference and with the grassroots conservative activists and donors who influence rank and file members of Congress back in their home districts.
Had Boehner been listening to these conservative members of his own House Republican Conference -- and their grassroots supporters -- he would have realized more than a year ago that their number one priority was to reduce the size and scope of the federal government.
Boehner’s real problem isn’t the math of the federal budget or a shortage of votes among Republicans in Congress for conservative policy solutions – it is his own lack of commitment to the principles the Republican Party allegedly stands for.
And it is this lack of principle that is his fatal weakness in any negotiation with President Obama and the Democrats. They all know Boehner is much more likely to cave and attack conservatives in his own Party than he is to stand and fight for the principles Republicans allegedly share.