I asked Mark Steyn yesterday for his assessment of Speaker John Boehner’s performance to date:
I think John Boehner has been an incredible disappointment. I think John Boehner has basically climbed into the Bob Dole suit, and I think they misunderstand the lessons of the 2010 election, which is that the Tea Party chose to work within the diseased husk of the Republican Party it loathes. And it still hasn’t forgiven for 2006 and 2008. So for the Republicans to demonstrate that hey, we’re back to 2006 again, except on Obama-level spending, is not a good idea. We need Republicans to at least take the lead in broadening public discourse. This country is broke. It’s the brokest country in the history of the planet. And the idea of arguing over itsy-bitsy, half a billion here and half a billion there, and continuing resolutions staggering forward every ten days, is preposterous. It’s inadequate to the task. It’s inadequate for the challenge facing America
My guess is that the Speaker and his staff have a long set of points in rebuttal, but of course those points are never delivered to the public much less to the conservative base, and are only rarely given to even a tired old Democratic audience via Meet the Press. The Speaker’s communication strategy is not to communicate, unless we count the occasional e-mail following a speech no one covered to a trade group inside the Beltway that no one knows outside the Beltway.
Similarly his lieutenants seem mystified at the growing conservative revolt. Politico’s Mike Allen told me on air yesterday about a great appearance by Budget Chairman Paul Ryan at a Politico Beltway power breakfast in which the chairman was all for charging up every entitlement hill, and about how he handled all the tough questions etc. (The video is embedded in this Politico story about CR negotiations.)
Too bad no one in the base heard those remarks, or anything like them yesterday from the chairman, or the speaker or Leader Boehner or Whip McCarthy. It is like the GOP version of the old Soviet Politburo: Those folks outside the Beltway/Kremlin have to guess what is happening by means of the new century’s equivalent of line-ups at funeral processions. Flyover country gets the echoes of conversations with the Beltway elites and leaks from caucus meetings. Great strategy. Sure-fire way to sell a plan of sacrifice and political heavy lifting.
In my exchange with Republican appropriator Jack Kingston this week I perhaps undiplomatically stated what most conservative folks outside of the Hill are thinking, that we don’t believe or trust the House GOP’s promises.
“You know,” Congressman Kingston replied “I understand that.”
Perhaps he and the House leadership does understand it, but my guess is that they really don’t. My guess is that they are in fact mad at the base and at the temerity of the unsophisticated mass of voters and the Tea Partiers, talk show hosts and pundits who just don’t understand how hard it is to deal with Reid and the president, how the CR isn’t the debt limit which isn’t the FY 2012 budget, and besides the Dems did this and didn’t do a budget for 2011, and we haven’t got the numbers back from the CBO etc etc etc.
While they fume and carp (anonymously to company town papers like The Hill and the Daily Caller) they don’t see their support melting away. In the second of my long interviews with Donald Rumsfeld (the first is here, the second here), I brought up one of his favorite sayings: “Trust leaves on horseback and returns on foot.” Yeah, a little Karate Kid-like, but you get the picture.
Note as well that since the former Secretary of State is pushing a book –Rummy’s donating all his proceeds from sales to the troops, but he is still trying hard to sell it (and succeeding)– the SecDef has done a lot of media.
Note that the former Secretary of Defense has spent four hours on air with me in the course of three weeks, and another two hours at a non-aired event.
He’s selling ideas, an account of what he saw happened, something he wants the public to understand, so he is overcommunicating and investing the time necessary to get the message across, with me and with many other hosts on many other platforms.
Just like every other public figure who is trying to sell a book or an idea or a vision.
Every other public figure except the House Republicans, who have decided, inexplicably, that secret negotiations leading to retreats and half measures is what November was about.
Boehner, Cantor, McCarthy and Ryan are talented communicators, and they proved it during the fall campaign, all of them with The Pledge and three of them with their book and the roll out of the book. Power has apparently brought them new staffs and new schedulers and new priorities like Politico breakfasts and CBO reports. They have been too busy to produce a plan and sell it to the public, and their window is closing, driven down by crises in Libya and Japan and a presidential campaign the MSM is straining to start.
A FY 2011 budget of $3600 billion and they cannot get through $60 billion in cuts. Almost five months after a crushing win and they are begging the president to lead because they are afraid of going first and getting beat up in the MSM. And so much contempt for their own supporters that they pass a going-nowhere defunding of NPR and expect the rabble to shut up and sit down even though the rabble knows it is just a ruse.
Even at this late hour the House GOP can reclaim the initiative and rally their base, but they have to show their hand and defend it. They have to declare the grand plan and the three parts of it –the CR, the debt ceiling, and the FY 2012 budget– and what they will insist on at each step. Then they have to fight and put up with the slings and arrows from the left and the kept Beltway-Manhattan media elite.
It isn’t too late to hope that the lights go on, though there isn’t much reason to expect such a turning.