Wednesday, March 25, 2015

THE PRAIRIE EDITOR: Is John Boehner Outfoxing His Opponents?

U.S. House Speaker John Boehner has been under much
fire not only from his Democratic opponents, but from
some conservatives in his own party. The criticisms are
different, of course, and that which comes from the
liberal party is to be expected and is part of the political
“game.” Those members of his own caucus, some radio
show hosts, and a number of conservative activists,
however, are also attacking Boehner for being too passive,
too cooperative, and too agreeable to “liberal” policies.

Individual U.S. house members chronically threaten a
caucus revolt against Mr. Boehner that would replace him.

Particularly provocative to the insurgents on his right are
his immigration policies and his willingness to fashion a
budget deal with the help of some Democrats, including
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. In the past, Mr. Boehner
has opposed a government shutdown. (One did happen
over his objections, and it was a public relations disaster
for the GOP. More recently, he avoided one at the time of
the 2014 mid-term elections, with positive results, and is
attempting to do the same again this year.)

What is John Boehner up to?

I don’t know; I have not talked to him about it --- I’m just
guessing --- but I think, as the titular head of his national
party in Congress, he has been trying to avoid harming the
image of the conservative party with voters. When the
GOP shut down the government a few years ago, as I
previously mentioned, Republicans took a beating in
polling, especially among independent voters. When they
avoided another shutdown, voters gave the GOP landslide
victories in 2014, including recovering control of the U.S.

2016 is a presidential election year, and despite current polls,
I believe the Republican nominee for president will have a
a huge advantage at election time. The Democrats are on the
verge of nominating a figure for president who is not truly
popular. Moreover, the liberal grass roots have little passion
for her candidacy.

Let’s go back to 1948 for a moment. Thomas Dewey, the
Republican nominee, was the overwhelming favorite to win
the presidency that year. He led in all the polls right up to
election day. His opponent was President Harry Truman,
who was elevated to that office by the death of President
Roosevelt. His Democratic Party was seemingly hopelessly
split, and in fact, a far left Democrat, Henry Wallace (who had
been vice president) was also on the November ballot, as was
a conservative Democrat, Strom Thurmond (who ended up
winning a notable number of electoral votes in southern
states.) Mr. Truman, by 1948, wasn’t even that popular among
rank and file Democrats. Republicans controlled both the U.S.
house and senate. On paper, Mr. Dewey could not lose.

Mr. Truman then boarded a special train that crisscrossed the
nation, and he attacked a “do-nothing” Congress. In two months,
he energized his liberal base, and gained the admiration of
independents, for his pluck and for his painting the conservative
Congress as obstructionists.

I suggest that the only way a Democratic presidential nominee,
whomever it is, can win in 2016 is by persuading the nation’s
voters, especially independents and ethnic voters, that the GOP
is blocking the public interest.

In 1948, Republicans in Congress blocked new liberal legislation,
but had few post-World War II ideas of their own. Mr. Dewey,
taking his election for granted, offered no new ideas of his own
during the campaign.

Mr. Truman’s upset comeback victory was no accident.

2016, it is true, is not 1948, but Republicans could fall into a
similar psychological political trap by giving voters the
impression that they only know how to say “no.” Mr. Boehner
and his colleagues seem to be acknowledging the electoral
danger, especially with “hot button” issues such as
immigration reform and closing down the government.
With Barack Obama in the White House, they do not currently
have enough votes to override his vetoes. Mr. Boehner, it seems
to me, is saying that he will keep the government running until
January, 2017 when he and his party hopes also to occupy the
White House. Unlike Mr. Obama and the previous senate,
controlled by the Democrats under Harry Reid, Mr. Boehner
seems to be saying to the voters that the Republican Party will
be responsible and patient. They seem to be acknowledging,
with the Democratic party’s electoral college advantage, that
“Obama fatigue” might not be enough in 2016.

At the same time, Speaker Boehner was bold and decisive in
inviting Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address the
Congress, something which most Americans approved.

Mr. Boehner might not, and probably won’t, satisfy some
conservatives, but his approach might also be the only way to
avoid a surprising upset at the polls. In the end, as I have been
suggesting for more than a year, the Republican Party and
many unhappy independents want to win in 2016. This kind of
grass roots “decision” was clearly visible in 2014.

Now we shall see if it will recur in 2016.

Copyright (c) 2015 by Barry Casselman. All rights reserved.

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