by Rod D. Martin
October 12, 2015

A friend of mine — who is a solid conservative but also a longtime public official in both Bush Administrations — took issue with my “Thoughts on the Speakers Race.” You can read the full Facebook discussion here, but the key points are as follows, with my response after:

Sorry to disagree but even Fox News did not say that at the time: Tea Party was a factor, not the factor. Massive Catholic shift, as I recall, as well. In 2011, Boehner put forward a plan that would have done a lot to solve our long-term fiscal crisis, including significant spending reductions. Obama rejected it, true — but he was empowered to do so because the right of the House GOP was already running so far to the right that Boehner’s flank was unprotected, with ideas like refusing to raise the debt ceiling, as if financial markets would respect that (which they did not)…. We shut down the government once, did anything change? No. Obama controls the White House and he won. And what about the Ryan plan votes over the years? Passed the House on GOP votes alone, failed in the Senate (40-59 at one point). So either praise Boehner for getting this done — following a solid conservative strategy with a unified House GOP — or admit that the strategy of passing strongly conservative proposals will fail in the Senate with Jordan or Webster as Speaker….

Boehner’s departure will put pressure on Rs in more moderate districts, and the Ds will not be shy about applying that pressure. We cannot win a majority on Tea Party seats alone and have never done so. A 2016 election in which we hold the House but lose the Presidency would be a failed election with grievous consequences for the country and the world. I, for one, am not willing to risk that, and that means we need to be a party that welcomes and appeals to independents as well as conservatives, exactly as in 2010. When conservative candidates for Speaker actually show they understand that and have a plan to get there, they may be treated as serious candidates…

My response:

When you say part of the House was “too far to the right,” I think you are missing two very different and important points.

First, it was for a very good reason that I didn’t attack Boehner’s conservatism per se: if you can name a single position held by the Freedom Caucus — substantively, not tactically — that differs from John Boehner’s, I’ll be very surprised. When, therefore, you advance the left’s agenda by claiming there’s an ideological fight here, and that the Republican Party is full of “crazies,” you’re not helping anyone but our shared opponents. That’s not an attack: it’s something I want you to think about. What are the stated philosophical differences between, say, Eric Cantor and Richard Viguerie? There aren’t any.

The left’s narrative is that the GOP has lurched right over the past few years. That’s hogwash. Let me try that again: name the stated philosophical difference between George H.W. Bush (1988 edition) and Ted Cruz. You can’t. There isn’t one, not a single one. What is different? The Democrats have lurched left, defining whatever they say as “the center” the whole time. Obama was against gay marriage as late as 2012. Clinton was for the Confederate flag and against abortion in Arkansas; he toned the former down as President and said he wanted abortion “safe legal and rare.” Now Wendy Davis runs as the 9 month abortion candidate and her supporters chant “Hail Satan” on the steps of the Texas capitol. Obama voted four times for post-birth abortion. A full-on capital-S Socialist is beating Hillary for the nomination. And on and on and on.

So “the GOP is full of crazies” is neither true nor helpful. The difference is tactical, not ideological: Boehner habitually loses, and people want a new coach. They’ve also lost faith that he actually wants to win.

Second, you more than anyone should know that campaigns are won at the margin. To say were other factors in 2010, 12 and 14 is like saying I need water as well as air to survive. Oh and food. And maybe shelter.

But it misses entirely that, at the margin, Americans were absolutely fed up with the direction Obama and the Pelosi-Reid Congress were taking them. They expressed that through the Tea Party, and also in other ways, all of which collectively drove up intensity on our side. That intensity produced turnout numbers, and a willingness to sacrifice by walking precincts and give hard-earned money by millions of people who’d never before been involved. And that not only pushed us over the top, it did so with historic numbers.

Were I to take your analysis at face value, I could walk away believing that elections are entirely random, that the pendulum just swung our way, and that all those forces were meaningless.

Again, that’s the MSNBC narrative, not the truth nor anything like it. And they are awfully good at realizing that the minute their team wins, when all of a sudden they have a “mandate” and you and I are on “the wrong side of history,” which we continue being long after they’ve lost again.

But we’re not on the wrong side of history. And yes, the last three elections meant something (including that Romney was a terrible standard bearer who threw a layup victory away).

People want rid of Boehner the same way they want rid of a losing coach. I’m happy to concede that he meant well. But he’s 0-10. And he’s lost people’s trust. And more to the point, he’s gone, and that’s over. So the question now is tactical: who can we get who will restore confidence among the ranks — both in the House and in the country — and actually lead the team?

Only in Washington is this not understood. Washington is permanently obsessed with the parlour game, the procedural tactics, anything but the big picture. That’s why it’s horrified by all of this. It believes holding an office is the same as “leading,” and cutting deals is the same as “governing.”

Team Obama has been governing John Boehner’s team from Day One. And we know we can do better: Newt did better with a smaller majority and a smarter Dem President. Tip O’Neill did better too, and faced a Republican Senate across the Rotunda.

So what’s the current leadership’s excuse again? And before you answer, think about how you will explain it to a Republican precinct walker. Because that’s who wanted Boehner’s head.