- - Thursday, October 1, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Given the challenges that come with the job, John Boehner has done some things well as the speaker of the House and the leader of the Republican majority. But what he doesn’t do well is communicate with the world beyond the Beltway. Washington often forgets that “beyond the Beltway” is where everybody lives.

Mr. Boehner is an “institutionalist” speaker. His concern, an important one, is to keep the lights on and the water running, working out compromises to get legislation enacted. Once on the president’s desk, the president would sign it, making it law, or veto it, making it Republican ammunition for the elections next year.

He never got credit for his considerable accomplishments because he never understood the need to talk to the people who gave him the majority and thus the speakership. He never treated the voters outside his cosseted world as adults, took their concerns seriously or made an effort, as difficult as it may be for an insider, to listen to them. He dismissed them as crazies and kooks because, in their frustration, they demanded more than he believed he could deliver. The crazies and the kooks delivered two landslide congressional victories, and only then heard the brave campaign bluster reduced to reasons why the new majorities could not deliver. Mr. Boehner is paying the price.

There’s the widespread belief that he quit because he decided he couldn’t be re-elected speaker, that the hard-liners would beat him. That’s probably not true. Had he held on he would likely have won handily, but many of his friends and colleagues think that would have only further enraged not just the crazies and kooks but the many millions of voters who would take it out on their congressmen at hand. Mr. Boehner, in this reading, threw in the towel — or fell on his sword, choose your metaphor — to save his friends and colleagues. Not a capitulation, but a sacrifice.

Now the Republicans must find a replacement, one with gifts Mr. Boehner does not have. Kevin McCarthy of California looks to be their man, but if he accomplishes what Mr. Boehner did and then more, he will have to persuade Republicans beyond the Beltway that he and his fellow conservatives are doing all they can to deliver on the big talk of the campaign. This will require, first of all, skill in communications that the evidence so far suggests he does not have. He is a conservative and his colleagues like him, but that is not enough. He may have the skill to run the House, and that’s important. But if he can’t persuade the great unwashed out there in flyover land that he can “get it done,” he’s not the man.

He’ll have to do better than he did in a friendly interview with Fox News, trying to explain what the House committee investigating the Obama administration’s bungling at Benghazi has accomplished, and how troops under his command would do it better.

“What you’re going to see is a conservative speaker,” he told his interviewer. “That takes a conservative Congress that puts a strategy to fight and win. And let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary Rodham Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known that any of that had happened had we not fought to make that happen.”

Those were remarks, cold, calculating and perhaps correct, that he should have kept for a conversation with the guys, sitting around after dinner with brandy and cigars, but not for boasting before a television network camera. He may be the best the Republicans have for the Boehner replacement, but his colleagues must first assign him to a course in English as a Second Language.

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