John Boehner describes the Republican party’s journey to Crazytown

John Boehner used to be the speaker of the House of Representatives from the time Republicans got a majority in 2010 until he retired in 2015. He was an old style Republican, following their standard playbook of reducing taxes on the rich and on businesses and opposing progress on social issues. But even that level of commitment to right-wing issues was not enough to placate the crazies that had, aided by Fox News, taken command of the party’s agenda and he retired from Congress in 2015. He started making a lot of money by, among other things, getting involved in the now-legal marijuana business even though as a congressman he had supported strong punitive measures against even the use of small amounts of marijuana, something that resulted in large numbers of people being sent to prison and having their lives ruined.

In an except from a book he is publishing, he describes what happened that made him realize that the party had no longer any use for people like him.

Retaking control of the House of Representatives put me in line to be the next Speaker of the House over the largest freshman Republican class in history: 87 newly elected members of the GOP. 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. Incrementalism? Compromise? That wasn’t their thing. 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. In fact, I don’t think that would satisfy them, because they didn’t really want legislative victories. They wanted wedge issues and conspiracies and crusades.

What I also had not anticipated was the extent to which this new crowd hated—and I mean hated—Barack Obama.

And of course the truly nutty business about [Obama’s] birth certificate. People really had been brainwashed into believing Barack Obama was some Manchurian candidate planning to betray America.

Mark Levin was the first to go on the radio and spout off this crazy nonsense. It got him ratings, so eventually he dragged [Sean] Hannity and Rush [Limbuaugh] to Looneyville along with him. My longtime friend Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, was not immune to this. He got swept into the conspiracies and the paranoia and became an almost unrecognizable figure.

Besides the homegrown “talent” at Fox, with their choice of guests they were making people who used to be fringe characters into powerful media stars. One of the first prototypes out of their laboratory was a woman named Michele Bachmann.

Bachmann, who had represented Minnesota’s 6th Congressional District since 2007 and made a name for herself as a lunatic ever since, came to meet with me in the busy period in late 2010 after the election. She wanted a seat on the Ways and Means Committee, the most powerful committee in the House. There were many members in line ahead of her for a post like this. People who had waited patiently for their turn and who also, by the way, weren’t wild-eyed crazies.

There was no way she was going to get on Ways and Means, the most prestigious committee in Congress, and jump ahead of everyone else in line. Not while I was Speaker. In earlier days, a member of Congress in her position wouldn’t even have dared ask for something like this. Sam Rayburn would have laughed her out of the city.

So I told her no—diplomatically, of course. But as she kept on talking, it dawned on me. This wasn’t a request of the Speaker of the House. This was a demand.

Her response to me was calm and matter-of-fact. “Well, then I’ll just have to go talk to Sean Hannity and everybody at Fox,” she said, “and Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, and everybody else on the radio, and tell them that this is how John Boehner is treating the people who made it possible for the Republicans to take back the House.”

I wasn’t the one with the power, she was saying. I just thought I was. She had the power now.

She was right, of course.

Under the new rules of Crazytown, I may have been Speaker, but I didn’t hold all the power. By 2013 the chaos caucus in the House had built up their own power base thanks to fawning right-wing media and outrage-driven fundraising cash. And now they had a new head lunatic leading the way, who wasn’t even a House member. There is nothing more dangerous than a reckless asshole who thinks he is smarter than everyone else. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Senator Ted Cruz. He enlisted the crazy caucus of the GOP in what was a truly dumbass idea. Not that anybody asked me.

Bachmann’s looniness pales in comparison to some of the people now in Congress since the party has of course become even crazier since he left, pushed by an even crazier Fox News and other right-wing media. Boehner’s comment that knowledge of how to do things in Congress “went straight through the ears of most of them, especially the ones who didn’t have brains that got in the way” does explain the nutty Marjorie Taylor-Greene introducing legislation to fire Anthony Fauci.

The first bill proposed by Greene, entitled the “Fire Fauci Act,” would eliminate Dr. Fauci’s salary “until a new NIAID Administrator is confirmed by the Senate,” Forbes reported. 

“We can defund anything we want in the government … and right now with Dr. Fauci with his everchanging flip-flopping advice, needs to be defunded,” Greene stated on Thursday morning during an appearance on Steve Bannon’s “WarRoom Pandemic” podcast, reviewed by Salon. This legislation is purely symbolic, as Politico congressional reporter Andrew Desiderio pointed out, since the NIAID director’s appointment is not “subject to Senate confirmation.” 

Fauci does not hold a congressionally approved job so they cannot fire him but who cares? It makes for good right wing media news outrage, which is the whole point. Oh, and she also wants to preemptively ban ‘vaccination passports’, the idea of people carrying with them physical or digital certifications of having been vaccinated that will enable them to travel more freely. Then we have the gun-fetishist Lauren Boebert and their other now-fading star Matt Gaetz.

Boehner bears responsibility for the party’s slide in craziness but his account is an interesting insider’s look into some of the events in its downward spiral.


  1. says

    Of course Boehner is like every other “how did we get here?” Republican in not being able to see his own place in the history of stoking up the base to get them to this point. He also represents the cluelessness on both sides of the aisle in not recognizing how the whole “wait your place in line” for roles in congress helps fuel people’s disillusionment with congress (though it’s even more galling coming from the people who are more likely to have seriously used the word “meritocracy” in their lives).

  2. johnson catman says

    re sonofrojblake @2: Not as funny as you think since the first syllable is pronounced with a “long A” sound.

  3. Who Cares says

    That he doesn’t see the corruption in parceling out jobs not based on if someone has /athe skill set suited for the job and instead as a reward for things like seniority.
    And as Tabby says the excerpts come across as someone staring wild eyed at an accident they helped cause refusing to accept/understand their own culpability in it.

    He is also wrong on one point; It is not Obama they went ballistic over, it was/is not one of them but an enemy as the PotUS. An attitude has now openly embraced by all of the congress and senate Republicans, there are some who are willing to work with the Democrats but it has to be hush hush, while extended to all non Republicans. McConnell did have a chance to slow/reverse this but he choose short term gains over the long term ones.

  4. Reginald Selkirk says

    @2 “Boehner”

    @3 Not as funny as you think since the first syllable is pronounced with a “long A” sound.

    Which is what you would think, if you knew German.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    … eventually he dragged [Sean] Hannity and Rush [Limbuaugh] to Looneyville along with him.

    Boehner thinks Hannity & Limbaugh were in Sane City previously? His reality meter still needs basic calibration.

  6. mnb0 says

    “Boehner bears responsibility for the party’s slide in craziness”
    Sure, but bearing responsibility is not the same as being the cause. That can’t be pinnen on some individual. The cause is structural.

  7. garnetstar says

    This underlines a sweeping generalization of mine: Fox News is almost wholly responsible for the destruction of the republican party, the slide of the country into fear-based violence and fascism, and the open rejection of democracy, which may, in fact, succeed.

    OK, that’s an exaggeration. But, all these weak-minded power-hungry loons wouldn’t have been able to succeed to nearly the same degree without Fox. Fox was more like an excellent catalyst, speeding up their gaining power and the destruction of the country to a degree that is now mortally dangerous.

    @4 has a good point: Moscow Mitch isn’t good at the great game. He’s said to be excellent at manipulating the rules of his little pond, the senate, especially to obstruct and prevent governance. But in the great ocean of politics, he’s just not a good player, precisely because he never plays the long game (which Obama is particularly good at.) I don’t think that Mitch knows how to. I mean, he came up with stonewalling Obama to get him out after one term, and how did that work out for Mitch? And, he doesn’t have any other ideas, it seems, because he’s running that play again with Biden.

    The way to get a president voted out isn’t to obstruct, not let him get anything done, and let the country sink into suffering and dysfunction, hoping that the voters will blame the president. The way is to undermine the president by negotiating fiercely over every bill, moaning loudly about how awful it’d be if the republicans weren’t in their strictly changing it for the better. Then, when the legislation passes, blame the president for every bad outcome and take credit for every good one: this would have been a disaster if we hadn’t interfered and made it work better! Etc. Fox News will be immensely helpful with that.

    Just a PSA for Moscow Mitch, should he be reading this!

  8. TGAP Dad says

    Let the record show that Boehner was all too happy to wield the GOP loony caucus, which is the only GOP caucus today, for his own agenda. He thought he could use them as a cudgel against the opposition, not realizing (or worse, accepting) that what he was doing was empowering them. T***p was the inevitable product of that feedback loop.

  9. says

    @ johnson catman No. 3

    You are, of course, correct, but to many of us here in Ohio, the first ‘e’ is silent and the ‘o’ is long.

  10. file thirteen says

    Odd to discover that the name “Boehner” is pronounced “Bayner” in the US. Is this premised on the idea of the “o” being silent? I guess that’s consistent with words like “phoenix”, and I’m sure it’s preferable to “Boner” (laugh kiddies laugh) but the German ö (pronounced er) is usually written in translations as oe, so I’d mentally pronounced this (German) name as “Burner”. I had to read to the end of the comments before hyphenman explained things.

  11. billseymour says

    In this case, I didn’t need to look any farther than Wikipedia to find out that Boehner has German ancestry; so the first vowel is certainly an o-umlaut.  A really obvious guess is that Americans couldn’t pronounce it, or even hear it correctly, which would explain how it became a long-a sound.

    hyphenman @11:

    … to many of us here in Ohio, the first ‘e’ is silent and the ‘o’ is long.

    What actually matters is how Boehner pronounces it.

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