Just as we were all getting used to the idea of Ted Cruz with his new sidekick Carly Fiorina leading a desperate, last-minute charge on behalf of sensible Republicans everywhere to stop Donald Trump from winning the Republican presidential nomination, along comes former Speaker John Boehner with an assessment of Cruz that’s probably very common on Capitol Hill.
At a speaking gig at Stanford University (yes, former Speakers get paid to speak), Boehner had this to say about his fellow Republican:
When specifically asked his opinions on Ted Cruz, Boehner made a face, drawing laughter from the crowd.
“Lucifer in the flesh,” the former speaker said. “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.”
If that wasn’t clear enough, Boehner went on to say he could vote for Trump in a general election but not for Cruz.
Now, the perma-tanned Ohioan’s antipathy for his frequent tormentor in Washington is understandable enough. It was Cruz who conspired in plain sight with a small faction of House conservatives to frustrate Boehner’s every effort at keeping the federal government operating and avoiding the calamity of a national debt default. And beyond that, it was Cruz who with malice aforethought most often articulated the Big Lie that resonated so strongly with the Republican base: that if not for traitors like Boehner, conservatives could sweep aside Democratic filibusters and presidential vetoes and repeal Obamacare and shut down Planned Parenthood and in general run the country. Long before Donald Trump started calling the Texan “Lyin’ Ted,” that was most definitely how he was regarded by most Republicans and Democrats alike in Congress.
In the end Boehner had to give up his gavel to outmaneuver Cruz and his allies and keep the federal government out of the ditch. And relieved as he seemed to retire to the golf links of Florida where he could chain-smoke to his heart’s delight, high-ranking pols never like being pushed out of office on anybody’s timetable but their own. And for all we know, Boehner really wanted to cap his career by presiding over the 2016 Republican National Convention, which would have been his right. As the first Speaker from Ohio since 1931, it would have been natural for him to run the first national convention in Ohio since 1936.
But instead of being able to get his revenge on his nemesis Ted Cruz via some obnoxious and obviously prejudicial ruling from the chair of the convention that wrecked Ted Cruz’s dreams of a second- or third-ballot victory, Boehner’s confined to the peanut gallery, with the consolation that he can now say any damn thing he wants.
Boehner speaks for the many Republicans, especially in elected office, who hate irresponsible demagoguery at their expense and are outraged at the idea of being expected to work overtime to make Cruz the party’s official leader. For them the superior suitability of Trump is obvious. The Donald will either lose in a magnificent supernova with no impact on the long-term shape of the GOP, or win and sit down with congressional leaders to cut deals and get some guidance on how to do his job. But a Cruz nomination would represent the final victory of a particularly abrasive faction of the conservative movement that is never going away, and that if given the power of the White House would treat John Boehner’s kind of Republicans like whipped curs.
So others may line up for seats on the Cruz Cruise to Cleveland, selling their souls to that “miserable son of a bitch” with every likelihood that they will suffer humiliating defeat to Trump in any event. But not John Boehner. Asked to get behind the infernal Ted Cruz, he’s in effect responding: “Get thee behind me, Ted Cruz!”