In the current issue of The New Yorker, there’s a LONG PROFILE of Republican John Boehner, which includes an analysis of how he skillfully played the rise of the Tea Party movement to the GOP’s advantage.
Boehner seemed an unlikely clarion for an anti-establishment revolt. He had been in Congress since 1991, during the Bush-Quayle Administration—long enough to have twice climbed from the back bench to a leadership position. He was a friend of Ted Kennedy’s, and a champion of George W. Bush’s expansive No Child Left Behind legislation. After the economic collapse of 2008, he had reluctantly advocated for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (“a crap sandwich,” he called it), the Tea Partiers’ litmus test of political villainy.
But Boehner was among the first Beltway Republicans to recognize that the rise of the Tea Party represented, for Republicans, a near-miracle of good luck. At the start of the Obama era, the G.O.P. was a battered and exhausted party, suffering not only defeat but something like an existential crisis. The Republican claim to competence had been squandered during the Bush years, along with its rationale of limited government. A brisk business arose in the writing of conservatism’s obituary, and not just on the left. Declaring Reaganism dead, influential public intellectuals on the right, like David Frum and Ross Douthat, urged a new conservatism that accommodated itself to the public’s apparent acceptance of an activist government, suggesting such policy prescriptions as a national anti-obesity campaign (featuring a “fat tax”) and the payment of subsidies to working-class single men to make them more attractive marriage prospects. Independents, spooked by the Bush-era mixture of “compassionate conservatism” and faith-based activism, seemed irretrievably lost to the G.O.P.