US House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to take
his leadership out of the blind trust where it has been sequestered for nearly
three years could improve Republican appeal to Jewish voters in the next
election if the move proves to be a game changer and not a one-off
The top dog made clear last week that he will no longer be wagged
by the irksome tail of his party’s Tea Party extremists.
came with the passage of a budget bill intended to prevent a repeat of October’s
government shutdown that sent the Republican brand plunging into the
The bill, which passed with strong bipartisan support, was
the work of the two budget chairs, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Washington) and Rep.
Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin). On becoming speaker Boehner (R-Ohio) had declared “I
reject the word” compromise, an attitude that fostered nearly three years of
gridlock and the reputation as leader of the least productive and most scorned
Congress in modern history.
Actually it wasn’t his leadership that led to
this sorry state; it was his abdication of leadership to the Tea Partiers and
the ideological extremists who came in the 2010 House GOP takeover. He was
clearly intimidated by the angry and energized newbies, and not always confident
of the loyalties of his top deputies.
Ultimately he let them – with much
pushing from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and ultra-conservative outside groups –
force the shutdown. Whether it was an act of cowardice on the part of a Speaker
who let them trample over him or he just let them get away with it to prove
their way wouldn’t work, Boehner looked feckless.
It is far too early to
tell whether last Friday’s vote was the beginning of a trend or a fluke because
the House quickly adjourned until mid-January for another of its extended
unearned paid vacations without dealing with the farm bill, extending
unemployment compensation, immigration reform and other needed
But not before Boehner found his voice and excoriated the
extremists who were calling for defeat of the Ryan-Murray compromise even before
they knew what was in it.
He seemed to take pleasure in venting at them,
accusing them of “misleading” people, lacking “credibility” and “pushing our
members in places they don’t want to be.”
He was talking about
well-funded hardright groups like Heritage Action, Freedom Works, Americans for
Prosperity, Senate Conservative Fund and the Club for Growth as well as
right-wing bloviators like Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck and Sarah
Tea Party Patriots called Boehner another “tax-and-spend liberal”
who has “declared war on the Tea Party” with his “smug and pretentious
That’s the worst curse in their repertoire:
Interestingly, after years of the House acting like the kids and
the Senate the adults who would clean up after them, the roles may be reversing.
That could be because seven Republican senators, including the top two leaders,
are facing well-financed primary challenges from the farther right next year
despite their own solid conservative bona fides.
Whatever recovery House
Republicans may be seeking, their Senate brethren, led by the scared seven,
could easily undo with their blocking tactics – part driven by the habit of
trying to filibuster to death anything this White House wants and resentment
over “nuclear” change in Senate rules by Democrats.
But there could be
enough votes on some occasions among more moderate Republicans to vote with the
Democrats to block another of minority leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-Kentucky)
This budget deal will become law, but another
showdown could be only two months away when the debt ceiling will have to be
raised. If Republicans block it in either chamber there could be another
shutdown, which is something Boehner wants to avoid; the White House announced
this week the increase is nonnegotiable. The Speaker knows what damage the last
closure did and he’d prefer avoiding a repeat so Republicans can end their own
civil war and instead focus voter attention on the bungled rollout of
But it will take more than that to convince Jewish voters to
If in coming elections, Republicans want to attract more
Jewish voters (they do well enough on the money, witness Sheldon Adelson’s
largesse), they can’t do it on Israel’s back alone. Actually, much of that
appeal on Israel is aimed not at the Jews but at evangelical voters, a backbone
of the GOP that shares little else in common with Jewish voters.
enough to tell Jewish voters that “we love Israel more than the Democrats do,”
because most voters see little difference between the two parties, despite
differences on policies like peace with the Palestinians and negotiations with
What keeps Jews voting Democratic by margins of 3:1 and greater is
a range of domestic issues coupled with the growing isolationism of the far
If they want a bigger share of the Jewish vote, Republicans are
going to have to reach out on issues like immigration, the environment,
protecting Social Security and Medicare, welfare, tax reform, gay rights, gun
safety, education and the role of government – a tall order despite Boehner’s
apparent shift to more pragmatic politics. Unlike Tea Party supporters and many
on the far right, Jews historically are not anti-government. They have instead
looked to government not as the enemy but to protect religious freedom, civil
liberties and provide a social safety net.
Ryan’s answer to conservative
critics of the budget compromise, who opposed any concessions to the Democrats,
was voters are “expecting us to find common ground.”
A single example of
bipartisan compromise coupled with excoriating the extremists does not transform
the do-nothing Congress into a do-something Congress, but there will be
opportunities in the second session of the 113rd Congress, which convenes next
Boehner has generated some great expectations.
deliver? What about his Republican brethren in the Senate? Only time will tell
whether Boehner is offering hope or change.