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Image: John Boehner, Key Speakers At The 2016 SALT Conference
John Boehner, former House speaker, at the Skybridge Alternatives (SALT) conference in Las Vegas on May 12, 2016.David Paul Morris / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Free to speak his mind, Boehner says some GOP reps were 'morons'

Boehner had a front-row seat to a political avalanche that never really stopped. His problems before are our problems now.


During his tenure as Speaker of the House, John Boehner would occasionally express some frustrations with his own GOP conference. A year before his 2015 retirement, for example, the Ohioan lamented the number of Republican "knuckleheads" he had to deal with.

Five months earlier, Boehner publicly mocked his own members over their reluctance to work on immigration reform. "Here's the attitude: 'Oh, don't make me do this. Oh, this is too hard,'" Boehner said, in a tone deriding House Republicans as if they were sniveling children. He added, "We get elected to make choices. We get elected to solve problems, and it's remarkable to me how many of my colleagues just don't want to."

Six years removed from his lengthy tenure on Capitol Hill, Boehner has written a book on his experiences, and Politico published an essay today adapted from the text. The first paragraph helped capture the former Speaker's current feelings:

In the 2010 midterm election, voters from all over the place gave President Obama what he himself called "a shellacking." And oh boy, was it ever. You could be a total moron and get elected just by having an R next to your name -- and that year, by the way, we did pick up a fair number in that category.

Remember, in case this isn't already obvious, this is the former Republican Speaker referring to some of his own Republican members.

In the second paragraph, Boehner described the challenge of trying to lead a massive group of first-year GOP representatives:

Since I was presiding over a large group of people who'd never sat in Congress, I felt I owed them a little tutorial on governing. I had to explain how to actually get things done. A lot of that went straight through the ears of most of them, especially the ones who didn't have brains that got in the way.

Oh. Evidently, we've come a long way since the days in which "knuckleheads" was Boehner's preferred complaint about GOP lawmakers.

Thankfully, the Ohio Republican was just getting started. Boehner's essay proceeded to call out GOP members of Congress who "didn't really want legislative victories," conservative "propaganda" outlets that churned out "crazy nonsense," and Fox News for making governing impossible -- and creating "a living hell" for him.

In the same vein, Boehner described an amazing story in which Michele Bachmann -- whom he described as a "lunatic" -- threatened to leverage her position as a prominent figure in conservative media unless the then-Speaker gave her a committee assignment she liked.

As for Barack Obama, with whom Boehner clashed frequently, the Republican added, "He still wasn't making Republican outreach a priority. But on the other hand -- how do you find common cause with people who think you are a secret Kenyan Muslim traitor to America?"

That's a good question.

Why would the former Speaker's perspective matter six years later? Part of Boehner's essay resonated because of the degree to which it debunks the idea that the Obama era would've been more productive if only the then-president had schmoozed, golfed, and rubbed elbows with Republicans who hated him.

This was an unnervingly popular theory with pundits for the better part of his tenure, and Boehner's perspective helps prove that it was wrong.

"Incrementalism? Compromise? That wasn't their thing," the former Speaker wrote in reference to many of his own members. "A lot of them wanted to blow up Washington. That's why they thought they were elected. Some of them, well, you could tell they weren't paying attention because they were just thinking of how to fundraise off of outrage or how they could get on Hannity that night. Ronald Reagan used to say something to the effect that if I get 80 or 90 percent of what I want, that's a win. These guys wanted 100 percent every time.... They wanted wedge issues and conspiracies and crusades."

This was not a problem a cocktail party in the East Wing of the White House was going to help fix.

But I also read this with interest because Boehner had a front-row seat to a political avalanche that never really stopped. The Ohioan wanted to legislate, and had ambitions of being a consequential House Speaker, but just as he rose to a position of real influence, he quickly discovered that he was leading a radicalized caucus, indifferent to governing, which had become preoccupied with the whims of propaganda outlets that had helped poison his party.

All of which is to say, John Boehner's problems before are our problems now.