Trump had just arrived to speak at the Voters Value Summit, an annual confab for evangelical conservatives hosted by the Family Research Council, and it seemed as if he was hearing the news of John Boehner’s resignation from Congress for the first time.
“Well, I think that’s a big, that’s a big statement—This just happened, right?” Trump said when he was first asked to comment on the news, which broke Friday morning.
“This just happened?” he asked again.
In no time, Trump decided how he felt about Boehner leaving Congress—where he’s represented Ohio’s 8th District since 1991—and his post as Speaker of the House, where he’s served since 2011: happy.
“I think it’s wonderful, frankly. I think it’s good,” Trump told me. “It’s time. I think it’s time for somebody else to go in.”
Trump wouldn’t say who he wants to “go in” in place of Boehner, first telling me that he wouldn’t comment on the matter at all, and then telling The Daily Caller, “I think they have probably four or five good choices.” He didn’t say who those four or five good choices are.
But when I asked Trump if Boehner was sufficiently conservative, he said, “I don’t think so, personally.”
Trump isn’t the only one. Conservatives at the Values Voter Summit reacted to the Boehner news as if a house had landed on the Wicked Witch of the West.
Marco Rubio broke it to them in the ballroom. “Just a few minutes ago, Speaker Boehner announced that he will be resigning,” Rubio said. Before Rubio could even finish his sentence, a man shouted, “Yeaaaaah!”
The crowd unleashed a thunderous applause and rose out of their chairs.
William Temple, a Ted Cruz fan who dresses as Button Gwinnett (one of three Georgians who signed the Declaration of Independence) waved his tri-corner hat in the air.
The crowd remained on its feet for 30 seconds.
“I’m not here today to bash anyone,” Rubio said, looking slightly worried. “But the time has come to turn the page and allow a new generation of leadership in this country—and that extends to the White House and the presidency as well.”
Ted Cruz was less polite. “You want to know how much each of you terrifies Washington?” he asked the audience. “Yesterday John Boehner was Speaker of the House. Y’all come to town and somehow that changes. My only request is, can you come by more often?”
Outside the ballroom after his remarks, Cruz told reporters, “I hope that the next speaker will be a strong, principled conservative.”
“It seems to me the country will be better served with a strong, conservative speaker,” he said. “And what I hope more than anything is that the next speaker demonstrates a fidelity to the promises we made to the men and women who elected us.”
Conservatives are frustrated with Washington, Cruz added, because even though they’re winning elections, conservative lawmakers are not governing as far to the right as they tend to promise during their campaigns.
“This is an opportunity for a new speaker who will take it as a solemn commitment to the men and women that elected us that he or she is going to do exactly what we told the voters we will do,” he said.
“I will say the early reports are discouraging if it is correct that the speaker, before he resigns, has cut a deal with Nancy Pelosi to fund the Obama administration for the rest of the tenure,” Cruz said, although he declined to specify where he had heard this report.
He then said, according to the mystery report, the alleged deal cut by Boehner and Pelosi would “fund Obamacare, to fund executive amnesty, to fund Planned Parenthood, to fund implementation of this Iran Deal.”
Cruz sounded disgusted. “Then presumably to land a cushy K Street job after joining with the Democrats to implement all of President Obama’s priorities. That is not the behavior one would expect of a Republican Speaker of the House.”
Rick Santorum, too, was pleased to hear the news about Boehner. When Boehner got into Congress, Santorum—a former member of Republican leadership himself—told me through his teeth as he smiled for a photo with a fan, he was a “strong, principled conservative,” but no more. You needn’t look further than his resignation as proof of his dwindling conservative credentials, Santorum said.
Hardcore conservatives detest Boehner because they think he is weak and too willing to compromise. What they wanted, according to The Week’s Jim Antle, was “someone more like Newt Gingrich, albeit with better long-term results,” but what they got was an adult in the room who seemed at times to regard the loudmouth Tea Partiers as children.
At the UN on Friday, President Obama perhaps best summed it up himself when he said that Boehner is “somebody who understands that in government and in governance you don’t get 100 percent of what you want.”
It wasn’t that Boehner supported the Obama agenda, it was that Boehner wasn’t able to personally take Obama out at the knees.
Right-wing rage seemed to only increase when ultra-conservative allies in Congress were unable to overthrow Boehner, which was somehow viewed as Boehner’s fault, rather than the rag-tag group of conservatives tasked with staging the always-unsuccessful coups.
One of their most memorable failures came in 2013, after Boehner avoided the “fiscal cliff” catastrophe. Those seeking to oust him as retaliation for compromising were so hapless that they circulated a document detailing their plan for a coup, called, “YOU WOULD BE FIRED IF THIS GOES OUT,” which Congressman Tim Huelskamp was photographed reading on his iPad.
Nowhere was the childlike right-wing frustration with Boehner more apparent than in Donald Trump’s speech. “We had some big news today with Boehner,” Trump said. And like a pack of trained seals the crowd erupted, once again, into applause.
“We have a country that’s in such danger and such trouble, we don’t have the time to be politically correct,” Trump said. “Speaker Boehner—some people like him on a personal basis. Do people like him on a personal basis, anybody?” The crowd answered “No.”
“We want to see the job being done properly,” Trump said. “We want people that are going to get it done and I don’t understand—they get elected, they’re full of vim and vigor, they’re gonna change things! They’re gonna get rid of Obamacare! They’re gonna do all of these things!”
Trump, the candidate who has promised to build a wall on the U.S.–Mexico border and force Mexico to foot the bill and who, during his speech on Friday, promised that as president he would force people and private businesses to say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays,” wanted to make sure the crowd understood that politicians are lying when they make such promises.
“They come down to these magnificent vaulted ceilings that you see all over Washington and what happens?,” the former Democrat said. “They become different people. They become different people.”
Boehner had at least one fan, sort of, at the Omni Shoreham on Friday: John McCain.
The senator stood in the lobby, diligently posing for photos, when I asked him what he thought of the news. “I’m sorry to hear that, I’m an admirer of his,” he said. “But frankly, we should use this as an opportunity for us to sit down together, all wings of the party, and recognize that our job is to elect the next president of the United States.”