How Speaker Boehner Can Overcome Low Ratings and an Anti-Incumbent Mood

Losses in popularity are common for those in the political spotlight.  It starts after the end of the “honeymoon” period and can be an ever-present annoyance throughout a leader’s years in authority.  Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio 8th district) is dealing with a slide that has previously been experienced by staunch adversaries like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA  12th district), his predecessor as Speaker.

Challenges  Faced  by  Other  D.C.  Power  Brokers

Sen. Reid, the President’s strong man in the Senate had a 33-49 disapproval rating as far back as April 2011 and was down to a 33-53 last September.   Meanwhile, Rep. Pelosi has seen her popularity go from a positive 53-35 in April 2007 (shortly after becoming the Speaker) to 42-26 in March 2010, to 39-51 last September, when most of Congress was affected by a general lack of trust by the voters.[1,2]

Then, of course, there was  the shocker in May when Eric Cantor (VA-7th district), the #2 Republican in the House and potential successor to Boehner, lost his primary election. And then, even more recently, Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) had to win a runoff primary.

[RELATED on OCR: “What Cantor’s Recent Slap Down Does and Doesn’t Say about Immigration”]

Boehner’s Comeback  Journey  to  the  Speaker’s  Chair

Speaker Boehner has been in Congress since he was first elected in 1990.  The strong support from his constituents has allowed him to work his way up through the ranks to his current position.  As a member of the “Gang of Seven,” they took advantage of the public’s mistrust of the Democrats after the House Bank and Congressional Post Office scandals to engineer a Republican majority in the House in 1994. Significant Republican losses four years later cost Gingrich his Speaker’s position, and Boehner’s conference chairmanship was lost through some mistakes on his part.  Nevertheless, he worked his way back, and on Feb. 2, 2006 was voted Majority Leader in the House and eventually became Speaker.[3]

[RELATED on OCR: “Not Your Average Shutdown”]

Boehner’s Slip  in  Ratings  and  Reasons  for  It

Boehner's Career Ratings (3)

After some years of essentially no opposition, the Speaker is facing the same Tea Party challenges that many others in his party are dealing with. Put differently,

“In essence, his district is a microcosm for a major struggle within the Republican Party between the establishment headed by Boehner and the insurgent tea party conservatives who demand a more confrontational approach with President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.”[4]

As mentioned in a previous pair of OCR articles, “Why the GOP Can’t Wait until 2016 to Act, Part 1 and Part 2,” Speaker Boehner’s position as captain is not as revered as Speaker “Tip” O’Neill’s was in the 1980s.  To some, this has been because he compromises too frequently with the Administration or appears reluctant to put the hammer down on dissidents, as Mr. O’Neill was known to do.[5]

In all fairness, Speaker Boehner is facing the unfolding of a cultural shift. As Ted Kaufman recently wrote in Forbes,

“The very first rule in negotiating a deal is you have to know that the person you shake hands with when agreement is reached can then deliver the votes for it. Since he became Speaker in 2010, it has become increasingly obvious that John Boehner cannot do that. Not because he can’t lead, but because his fractured caucus simply won’t follow… That attitude may reflect a trend throughout our society to take control out of the hands of leaders. A recent Zogby poll revealed that Millennials, the generation aged 19 to 34, are ‘more unattached to a top-down decision-making process than Americans who came before them.’”[6]

What’s  a  Speaker  to  Do?


“The Administration is now resorting to an honor system to enforce it.  What the hell is this, a joke?”

Thus spoke Mr. Boehner on 3/27/2014 regarding yet another arbitrary and non-constitutional delay in the enforcement on Obamacare.  His tone indicated a necessary, more assertive position against the President.

Assertive action is also required, and recently the Speaker announced his intention to sue the President over excessive use of executive orders.  Ridiculed by the Left because Obama has issued fewer executive orders than some of his predecessors, Boehner understands that it’s not just their number, but their impact on the citizenry, that matters.  Obama’s use of his famed pen has gone beyond his branch’s authority on many occasions, and a lawsuit is the most likely way to stop on-going abuse of power.

[RELATED on OCR: “Are We in a Constitutional Crisis?”]


1)  But to get the attention of the voters, counter proposals must be made to Obamacare.  The realization that policy costs have gone up substantially for those not dropped by their insurers and that work hours are being cut as a result of this law is not sufficient to win at the ballot box. Some in the House are already working on this and it must be pushed forward.7,8

2)  IMMIGRATION.  This needs capital letters. We can and we must take a multi-task approach (borders and legalization with appropriate penalties) or the Republicans will lose the Hispanic vote, which never should have gone to Obama in either election.

[RELATED on  OCR: “Did the Hispanic Vote Support the Wrong Party in Nov. 2012?”]

3)  Common Core (aka “Obamacore”) is more nefarious than simply inviting the federal government to influence and eventually control education. Its “standards” to make student “college-ready” are, in reality, to make them “worker-ready” by diluting the broad and deep subject background required of an informed citizenry, something Obama and disciples are wary of. Indiana recently changed its mind and turned away from it.  Exactly what the House can do about this at this time is questionable, but the public needs to be assured that the Speaker and the House are supportive of their attempts to extricate themselves from this sticky web which came with, of course, a financial incentive.

[RELATED on OCR: “Why I Proposed H.B. 273 to Repeal Common Core in Ohio”]

4)  And we mustn’t forget the bundle of 17 trillion gremlins known as the federal budget. The Speaker must find a way to promote the idea that win-win compromise is a virtue and is the only way to get the ball rolling with his adversaries across the aisle. His Party detractors need to remember the reality described by physics is that “starting friction is greater than rolling friction.” If there’s a proposal that has some indication of a working relationship with the Democrat-controlled Senate, it must be considered seriously. At the same time, Boehner’s image must be like O’Neill’s in that he “never forgot the soup line.”9

In conclusion, it’s a great time to revive “speak softly and carry a big stick.” Then again, with all of the noise on Capitol Hill and in social media, Speaker Boehner might have to speak LOUD, too.


Oscar A. (Tony) Rubio is a writer who merges the lessons of history with current events to suggest a better path. He resides in Cincinnati, Ohio and believes that our national mood would be improved if we listened to more Big Band and Jazz as we look forward to the White House changing occupants on January 20, 2017. Tony blogs at and

All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.

1 – from the Washington Post, 4/20/2011

2 – September 2013 Gallup Poll

3 – “A Profile of House Speaker John Boehner,” by Justin Quinn,

4 – article by Michael Pitman in the Hamilton Journal News, 5/7/2014

5 – “Four years later, when 44 Democrats joined in voting to overturn a ruling of the chair, the kind of parliamentary decision that is the lifeblood of the House, Mr. O’Neill wrote them that he was ‘extremely disappointed’ and obliquely warned that ‘disciplinary measures’ were under consideration.
Such measures could affect a member’s committee assignments. He added that he felt that such measures were unnecessary. No future Democratic votes against the judgment of the chair were noted.”  By Martin Tolchin, NY Times memorial to Speaker Tip O’Neill, 1/7/1994

6 – Ted Kaufman,, 10/18/2013

7 – “No Republican alternatives to ObamaCare? Think again,” by Rep. Randy Hultgren, (R-IL 14th district), 4/14/2014,

8 – “Conservatives Push for GOP Health-Care Bill,” by Kristina Peterson and Laura Meckler, The Wall Street Journal, 5/29/2014

9 — Upon retirement, O’Neill’s popularity was 67% (1987), “Tip O’Neill never forgot the soup line,” by Sandy Grady, 1/10/1994,




Related posts