Boehner's credibility gap
The shattered credibility of establishment Republicans is the problem that dare not speak its name, at least among establishment conservative pundits. Charles Krauthammer, writing for the Washington Post, makes a persuasive case for House Republicans passing the Boehner bill. Dr. Krauthammer makes a strong argument for the Boehner bill as smart politics. There are, writes the good doctor, elements in the Boehner bill that are laudable. Dr. Krauthammer is essentially right on the politics and seeing the good in Boehner's legislation.
But the core problem with the Boehner bill is the sponsor; Speaker John Boehner, that is, and a Republican leadership that has failed to gain conservative activists' trust. Why is that? Because conservatives are inherently distrusting? Of course not. The fault lies with Mr. Boehner and Washington's GOP establishment; both tried to play conservatives for chumps earlier in the year.
Let's not forget that Mr. Boehner hyped an earlier budget deal with President Obama as if it were a sea-change. When conservatives got a chance to closely examine the deal Mr. Boehner cut with Mr. Obama, the consensus was that the Speaker was just indulging in Washington's perennial game of smoke and mirrors. The Boehner-Obama deal was revealed as a tail-covering exercise that made scant progress toward real budget reform.
No wonder the Boehner bill is being met with skepticism and resistance by grassroots conservatives. Had Speaker Boehner and Republican leaders played straight with conservatives from the get-go, Boehner's proposal might well be accepted by conservatives as a useful interim step toward significant budget and governmental reform.
The trouble remains Boehner's genuineness. To paraphrase a line from the movie classic, Cool Hand Luke, "What we have here is a failure... of credibility." The Speaker is a victim of his actions and overblown pronouncements, which shriveled conservatives' trust in him.
There's perhaps a not-so-nagging suspicion among grassroots conservatives that even if the GOP captures Congress and the White House in 2012, the sort of far-reaching, fundamental reform that the nation needs will not be realized, much less seriously attempted. Washington's GOP leaders would no doubt make honest efforts to fix big government - straighten out the books, so to speak. But engaging in historic reforms that dramatically shrink the national government, sun-setting its authority in many areas and returning much authority to the states - the confidence among conservatives is lacking.
What Dr. Krauthammer fails to account for in his analysis is that, whatever reservations grassroots conservatives may have about the merits of the Boehner bill, the deeper concern is with Speaker Boehner himself. Boehner and Washington's GOP leaders have failed to convince the grassroots that they're in the vanguard of the movement to restore limited government.
How -- or if -- Speaker Boehner repairs his credibility problem with conservatives is a very good question, indeed.