Years ago, when the candidate I was working for rejected my advice, I made the mistake of going back to the headquarters and telling my loyal staff (who together had formulated the rejected proposal) that our recommendation had been declined. I did my best, I told them, but I just couldn’t make the sale.
One of my closest pals, and one of the smartest politicos I’ve ever known, took me aside to tell me I had made a monstrous mistake by telling everyone I’d failed, rather than convincing them that, upon further reflection, I’d changed my mind and come to the conclusion, shared by the candidate, that our plan was flawed.
You just admitted to half of the campaign that you are powerless, he explained. Far better in the long run for them to think you were just wrong.
Someone should have told John Boehner.
He emerged from the latest debacle not as the guy who gave up instead of standing up. He comes out of it not wrong, but irrelevant.
House Republicans didn’t redeem themselves in the public’s eye; they looked like a divided, weak and increasingly irrelevant group. They didn’t stand on principle; they fell apart on politics.
What could he have done? If he couldn’t get his party to the table to make a deal, then maybe the second best solution was not to advertise his weakness but to affirm his leadership, even if flawed. The result was a foregone conclusion. Boehner’s fate was not.
He didn’t just lose. He gave up any vestige of power.
Not an auspicious way to begin a new Congress. There might have been no chance for him to win much, but losing with everyone is the one thing you want to avoid in politics — unless you are standing on principle in doing so.
I never heard Boehner stand up and say that even if he were the only Republican to support it, he would make a deal and stand by it. I never heard him say he’d resign if no one followed it.
When I complained people would think I was wrong for doing whatever it was that I didn’t want to do, my friend told me that unless I was willing to resign over it, holding on to the appearance of power is more important.
Boehner is now trying to double back, insisting he won’t play ball in the future, that his principles really are that. It might work. But I wouldn’t count on it. Power is easy to lose and hard to get back.