What on earth are White House strategists thinking by seizing on the GOP”s House leader, John Boehner, as the Republican scary pin-up to attack ahead of the mid-term elections? The Republican Minority Leader may not be to everybody’s taste but he is “a hard man to demonize,” as The Economist has pointed out. He is a mild-mannered country-club-type Republican, who even back in the mid nineties when he aligned with Newt Gingrich wasn’t one of the trusted members of the praetorian guard.
Convivial and clubby, Boehner is sociable with Democrats in the Capitol Hill watering holes. His style is not dissimilar from Bob Dole’s, another Midwestern conservative able and willing when circumstances demanded to make deals across party lines. In some ways Boehner comes across as your dad’s genial brother, ready with a crack and the offer of a drink and a cigarette. He’s also not that well-known nationally. So painting him as the ogre moderate Republicans, centrists or independents should flee from at the polling booths is unlikely to secure the Democrats much advantage.
And if the the GOP does capture the House, as opinion polls suggest consistently the party will, then Boehner is someone the Whte House will need to be able to negoiate with – that is if there isn’t going to be another nineties-style government shut-down.
Targeting Boehner strikes me as another major misstep by the White House when it comes to strategy and thinking things through. Strategic and communication errors have marked this administration almost from the start. In the first summer of this administration, President Obama and senior aides neglected to sell the health-care reform – something that still hasn’t been sold to most Americans.
From the beginning they failed to focus on the economy. No FDR-style “fireside chats,” no trying to manage expectations and to explain that recovery from the financial crisis would not be speedy (as is the case always from recessions caused by financial crashes), no preparing Americans for the long haul and no cheering of them up.
Only belatedly has the President and his senior aides started to talk about the economy. Too little and too late.
So who should the White House target? Surely, they should be highlighting the civil war underway in the GOP, pitching Republican moderates and a new generation of Tea Party-aligned ideologues. Boehner is a small-government conservative while a lot of the likely GOP freshmen are more “no-government” and this, from a strategic point-of-view, is surely what the White House should be emphasizing. Earlier this week, I argued that the GOP primary results were a godsend for the White House and Democrats but they seem to want to throw away what the Republicans give them.