Politics

08.27.12

House Speaker John Boehner’s Convention Pep Talk

Don’t sweat the gender gap, or the public’s disdain for Congress. And don’t read too much into the Tea Party’s weak presence in Tampa. The House speaker’s (un)conventional pep talk. By Peter J. Boyer.

TAMPA—John Boehner thinks the national political conventions are too long and too costly, and that the defining documents they produce, the party platforms, are tedious things that nobody ever bothers to read. On the other hand, conventions occasion such events as the speaker’s luncheon on Monday with the press, where Boehner watched reporters dine on steak and lobster, while he answered their questions as his own portion grew cold (“The idea that I was gonna eat here,” he said, “was a lie.”)

Boehner cited his own reputation for straight talk, which was put to the test when he was reminded of his comment last month that “The American people probably aren’t going to fall in love with Mitt Romney.” He did not back away from the statement, instead explaining that Romney didn’t have the chance to properly introduce himself to the voting public during the Republican primary, when his opponents were “busy tearing [him] apart.”

“That why I think his speech is very important,” Boehner said, notching up the pressure on the presumptive nominee’s Thursday night appearance. “This is his opportunity to re-introduce himself to the American people.”

Boehner praised Romney’s selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, precisely because it was, in Boehner’s view, “the riskier choice.”

“He had safer places he could have gone,” Boehner said. “I think he understood that he had to be on offense and that we had to be on offense through this election, and putting someone as strong, with a very clear record, as Paul Ryan on the ticket, says an awful lot about our nominee. I think it has brought energy to the campaign, and I think it has brought energy to the candidate.”

Boehner turned aside questions about the Republicans’ abiding gender-gap problem, noting that the other side of the GOP’s women problem is Obama’s deficit among men. Anyway, Boehner asserted—repeatedly—the election will be decided on the economy.

“This election is about economics. These groups have been hit the hardest. They may not show up and vote for our candidate, but I suggest to you that they won’t show up and vote for the president either.”

The speaker acknowledged that Republicans have work to do in selling the party to African Americans and Hispanics, but he suggested that the GOP is counting on the economy depressing turnout of Obama’s base. “Think about who this economic downturn has hurt the most—blacks, Hispanics, young people,” he said. “This election about economics. These groups have been hit the hardest. They may not show up and vote for our candidate, but I suggest to you that they won’t show up and vote for the president either.”

Boehner has spent the last month raising money for his Republican House candidates, and he said Monday that, despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, he hopes to increase the size of the Republican majority. “We’re in a strong position,” he said.

Regarding the relatively low profile at the convention of the freshman members of his conference—the so-called Tea Party freshmen (only one of whom has been given a speaking role here)—Boehner said that most of them are at home with their families, and campaigning. He said the low public opinion of Congress is as old as the republic, although he did suggest that at least some of the public’s disregard is earned.

“We have 435 members,” Boehner said, “and on any given day some of them are probably out doing things they shouldn’t be doing.”