John Boehner should really have some sympathy for the devil.
The Former House Speaker’s “Lucifer” comments about GOP conservative standard-bearer Sen. Ted Cruz would have incited a bar fight back when Boehner still owned the family business. But aside from the personal vendetta, why should he hate Cruz so much?*
It’s certainly not about the doomsayer results of the 2013 shutdown that Cruz championed. That shutdown allowed Boehner to knuckle down on all opposition (read: conservatives) for a whole year, and blame Cruz while he did it.
When Cruz tried to work things out with Boehner, Cruz said “John Boehner’s response was, ‘I have no interest in talking,'”
A year later, The Atlantic declared Boehner the winner of that showdown, because he crushed the hopes of conservatives for the one best shot at defeating Obamacare.
But post-shutdown, things changed. The negotiators—House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray—actually got together. They worked out a compromise. They hit the deadline. And then both houses of Congress passed it. Over the past year, House Republicans had repeatedly humiliated Boehner by refusing to go along with his legislative gambits; nothing makes a speaker look worse than having to withdraw a vote because his own side won’t support him. But in this case, despite criticism from conservative outside groups like Heritage Action, House Republicans overwhelmingly supported Boehner, 169 to 62.
Boehner also took the opportunity to strengthen his position relative to those outside groups. For too long, he and other Republican leaders felt, Heritage, the Club for Growth, the Senate Conservatives Fund, and other self-appointed arbiters of conservative purity had been yanking members of Congress around, warning of consequences if they voted the wrong way. The groups were among the cheerleading chorus that brought about the shutdown by insisting on defunding Obamacare. Yet after the shutdown ended, Heritage Action’s CEO admitted, in a televised interview, that defunding was an impossible goal as long as Obama remains in office. For Boehner, that was the last straw, proving that the groups didn’t care about being realistic or constructive. In December, before the budget deal came up for a vote, he publicly thumbed his nose at the groups: “Frankly, I just think that they have lost all credibility,” he said.
The liberals won, and Cruz lost the good fight (notice the liberal use of the words “good outcome”).
But it’s hard to imagine any of these good outcomes—a yearlong budget agreement, a less unruly House GOP, the possibility of immigration reform—had Boehner not allowed the shutdown to play out the way it did.
At the time, it seemed crazy. But in retrospect, it looks like John Boehner won.
But what about the 2014 midterm Congressional races? Didn’t Cruz doom the GOP? That’s the narrative. But it’s not true.
The GOP picked up 8 Senate seats in 2014, two more than needed to gain control of the upper chamber. Not a single Republican incumbent lost. Democratic Sens. Jay Rockefeller, Tim Johnson, John Walsh and Tom Harkin all retired and were replaced with Republicans. Retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss’ seat was easily filled by David Perdue.
In the House, the GOP net gained 13 seats, increasing their majority. In fact, Republicans only lost 3 incumbent elections (winning 16).
There was no disaster, and Boehner’s lordly power only increased after the shutdown. But ultimately, that led to his ouster. After the 2014 GOP rout of the Democrats, it was Ted Cruz who stood up first.
“Americans … have risen up and retired Harry Reid as [Senate] majority leader,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said on Fox News at 20 minutes past midnight.
Cruz added: “Now that we have won the election it is incumbent on Republicans to stand up and lead. … Americans don’t necessarily trust Republicans; they’ve given us another chance.”
Emboldened by the win, 41 Congressmen formed the House Freedom Caucus, led by Boehner’s fellow Ohioan Jim Jordan. Boehner’s days were numbered, and at that point, Cruz really became the devil for him (before that, he was just another annoying conservative, perhaps a bit more annoying than most).
Boehner played his own politics the way he played the GOP’s politics: Winning the battle only to lose the war. He would rather have capitulated to the Democrats and left well enough alone without a shutdown. But he let Cruz and the others have their shutdown, hoping it would lead to a spanking at the polls. If that had happened, Boehner would still be speaker, and he would be thanking Ted Cruz for it.
Instead, conservatives won, and the GOP should thank Cruz for it, because the party is better off without the bully Boehner. The only way to stop bullies is to stand up to them, and voters respond to that kind of courage. In this race, Ted Cruz is the only remaining candidate whose actions stand up to his words.
*NBC News noted that Cruz was even Boehner’s lawyer during a 1998 case that dragged on for six years. Even then, they didn’t talk much. “If I had said 50 words to John Boehner in my life, I would be surprised,” Cruz said.