John Boehner is like one of those guys you aren’t really friends with, even though you’ve known about him for years. You know the type: You never really hung in the same circles and have warily kept him at arm's length. But lately? Lately he’s been a riot.
Boehner’s drift into your social orbit happened slowly, then all at once. You’re never entirely sure who invited him, to be honest, but you can’t deny that it’s enjoyable when he’s suddenly everywhere, regaling you and your friends with sordid tales about his former clique. It’s all in his new book, “On the House: A Washington Memoir,” which was released Tuesday. But it sounds better when it’s coming from him directly.
The former speaker of the House has all the best dirt; the tea he spills is refreshing in its honesty. In an essay adapted from the book for Politico Magazine, Boehner disparaged the tea-party-aligned GOP members who made him speaker, lamenting how his lessons on governing “went straight through the ears of most of them, especially the ones who didn’t have brains that got in the way.” It’s a dynamic that’s been self-evident since 2010, but when it comes from the former Republican leader, that’s tragicomedy gold right there.
And the details he has! My god, they’re transcendent, a schadenfreude-infused manna that leaves you feeling slightly less burdened from the distressing reality they represent. Take, for example, how the former longtime chairman of Fox News, the late Roger Ailes, reacted when Boehner told him to rein in the conspiracies he was putting on the air:
But he did go on and on about the terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, which he thought was part of a grand conspiracy that led back to Hillary Clinton. Then he outlined elaborate plots by which George Soros and the Clintons and Obama (and whoever else came to mind) were trying to destroy him.
“They’re monitoring me,” he assured me about the Obama White House. He told me he had a “safe room” built so he couldn’t be spied on. His mansion was being protected by combat-ready security personnel, he said. There was a lot of conspiratorial talk. It was like he’d been reading whacked-out spy novels all weekend.
It's objectively bad that one of the most powerful men in media was high on his own supply of nonsense. In Boehner acknowledging that he saw the same things you did, he grants permission to laugh at the inanity of it all.
He’s a chain-smoking, merlot-soaked, cannabis-industry-backing gossip. And six years after relinquishing the speaker’s gavel, he’s welcomed with open arms — for now. There’s still a certain delight that washes through you when you hear Boehner use the bluntest of language to disparage Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in a leaked recording of his audiobook taping session. And you feel a kind of grim satisfaction that he clearly calls out former President Donald Trump for having “incited that bloody insurrection” at the Capitol on Jan. 6.
It’s all entertaining enough that you almost forget why you never ran in the same crowds. But then you start to listen, really listen, to what he has to say once he’s tapped out from all the stories he has on hand. And that’s when you start to remember how little separates Boehner from the “crazies” that he dunks on, except for style.
Because for all his rollicking yarns, he wants nothing but the best for the Republican Party and for them to start “acting like Republicans again,” he told NBC News’ Lester Holt. That apparently does not include when he rallied the masses against former President Barack Obama when he was still House minority leader.
He is also still a practicing member of the cult of both sides, refusing to see the current party’s makeup as anything but an aberration. When talking with Holt, Boehner chided “members on both sides of the aisle who are more interested in making noise, drawing attention to themselves, raising money, than they are about governing” without admitting how that describes the vast majority of his former colleagues versus a small number of Democrats.
Moreover, he told Time’s Lissandra Villa that he has no real regrets about his time as speaker of the House. He doesn’t have second thoughts about killing the bipartisan immigration bill that passed in the Senate in 2013. He doesn’t have qualms about calling progressive Democrats “political terrorists” cut from the same cloth as the tea party. And yes, he still voted for Trump in the end in 2020:
I voted for Donald Trump. I thought that his policies, by and large, mirrored the policies that I believed in. I thought the choices for the Supreme Court were top notch. At the end of the day, who gets nominated to the federal courts is really the most important thing a President does.
And there’s the rub. The New Republic’s Natalie Shure correctly described Boehner’s book tour as a rewrite of Republican history. “It was Boehner’s own wish list of policy prescriptives and political wedges that primed the pump for the Tea Party surge in the first place,” Shure wrote, noting his early forays in leadership coincided with a rising anti-government sentiment in the GOP. And even during the Trump presidency, with the crazies at their peak of power, they still packed the federal courts with conservatives, loosened regulations and passed billions of dollars in tax cuts.
Boehner’s book and subsequent media blitz is a reminder that contempt for the devil doesn’t make someone a saint. The fact that he can make you laugh as you agree on who the worst people in politics today are doesn’t make Boehner a friend or an ally. He’s more like the worst person in your friend group, the one who you can only tolerate in short bursts. You wouldn’t weep over never seeing him again. There aren’t enough glasses of merlot in the world to change that.