Boehner’s shortcomings, not GOP dysfunction, were his downfall

John Boehner’s resignation has sparked another round of claims from the mainstream media that the Republican party is hopelessly divided and incapable of governing. These claims, one suspects, are presented more in delight than in sorrow.

There’s no question that there deep divisions exist within the party about tactics and, to a much lesser degree, policy. But the MSM’s spin on Boehner ignores the possibility that his problems as Speaker may have been due in significant part to him not being very good at the job.

Boehner wanted to present himself as the adult in the room — a narrative the MSM was happy to echo because it portrays as children hardcore conservatives who are up for a fight. His condescending attitude was bound to alienate many new arrivals.

Boehner’s attitude would probably have been fine back in the day, when new members were expected to be seen but not heard. However, in the second decade of the 21st century, it was misguided and inappropriate.

Boehner seemed unable to recognize that the impatience and disillusionment of his adversaries in the caucus were less the product of immaturity than the understandable outgrowth of President Obama’s unprecedented usurpation of power. Today on Face the Nation, Boehner said:

Our founders didn’t want some parliamentary system where if you won the majority, you got to do whatever you wanted. They wanted this long, slow process. And so change comes slowly. Obviously too slowly for some.

This statement represents an excellent example of Boehner’s tin ear. Change isn’t coming slowly. Obama is ushering it in rapidly by executive order, in flagrant disregard of the system the founders established. Yet Boehner wants us to believe that it’s members of his caucus who are at odds with the founders’ vision.

Boehner’s condescending attitude was only part of his problem. As John has noted, Boehner was not a good spokesperson for conservative policies and tactics. Moreover, the MSM found him an easy target of ridicule — for crying in public, for example.

Personally, I never thought Boehner was at all ridiculous, and I found plenty to like about him. However, his lack of media savvy and his vulnerability to ridicule made him all the more ill-suited for the part of a modern-day Speaker of the House.

Boehner’s shortcomings are highlighted by a comparison to the two congressmen who, initially, were most often mentioned as a successor: Paul Ryan and Kevin McCarthy. Ryan, who quickly took himself out the running, is charismatic and persuasive (years ago, he went toe-to-toe publicly with Obama on health care and more than held his own). And he carries considerable respect and admiration within the caucus.

McCarthy, profiled by the Washington Post here, has worked tirelessly to build good relationships with new members. As the Post’s Paul Kane explains:

He recruited many of the members to run in the 2010 elections that delivered the majority, he has been their adviser and confidant, he works out with them in the House gym and keeps tabs on family members.

In the past, McCarthy has been able to win over critics of the Republican leadership. For example, Rep. Tom Graves, whom McCarthy once expelled from his Whip team, delivered a nominating speech for McCarthy when he moved up to the number two spot in the GOP House leadership.

None of this means that McCarthy would be more successful in holding the GOP caucus together than Boehner was, or would have been going forward. It does mean that he would have a chance at greater success, and that it’s probably premature to conclude that the task is hopeless.