On Wednesday, April 27, I heard former Speaker of the House John Boehner speak at Stanford and subsequently make headlines around the world. Boehner called Ted Cruz “Lucifer in the flesh” and a “miserable son of a bitch,” shocking and delighting the audience.
As a conservative, I arrived hopeful. As a conservative, I left disgusted.
In fact, John Boehner delighted a lot of liberal audiences by confirming everything they have ever thought about conservatives. The House Freedom Caucus? “Knuckleheads,” according to Boehner. Reagan? “He would be the most moderate Republican elected today.” Ezra Klein at Voxwrites, “Boehner is validating one of the most persistent and controversial critiques of the modern Republican Party,” namely that it has been taken over by extremists. Of course, Klein concludes: “And [Boehner] has the authority to do so.”
Many conservatives would tell you that this is not the first time John Boehner has sold out the cause. I have always defended Boehner from these criticisms, but he has now made it impossible for me to do so. At Stanford, Boehner revealed his character. And it wasn’t pretty.
David Brooks has called this election cycle a “Joe McCarthy moment.” He means that “People will be judged by where they stood at this time. Those who walked with Trump will be tainted forever after for the degradation of standards and the general election slaughter.” I agree. Those who watched the rise of authoritarianism and vulgarity in America and supported it, excused it, attacked its enemies, or stayed silent will be judged harshly, either by history or something even more fearsome. So where does John Boehner, Republican leader until two seconds ago, stand?
With his golf partner and “texting buddy,” Donald Trump.
Boehner made his lack of judgment crystal clear, explaining, “If the nominee is Donald Trump, I’ll vote for him. If the nominee is Ted Cruz, I won’t vote for him. I’d be voting, but over my dead body.” Boehner had no difficulty summoning up vile and over-the-top criticisms of Ted Cruz – he literally called the man the devil. Yet as Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) put it, Senator Cruz has probably “never said more than four or five words” to Boehner, a member of the House of Representatives.
Besides, Boehner is a conservative. He likely agrees with Cruz on most key questions of policy and principle, from the size of government to federalism to defending life. However, these are evidently secondary concerns for the former Speaker of the House. Boehner puts his own petty personal and procedural differences with Cruz first, and unleashes the type of vile criticism that he has never directed at Barack Obama, John Kerry, or anyone else.
Trump, on the other hand, has advocated forcing the military to commit war crimes and banning all Muslims from entering the United States. He has promised to “open up” libel laws to prosecute journalists that criticize him. He is a defender and admirer of Vladimir Putin; many of his top campaign operatives have ties to the Kremlin. He has long been linked to the mafia. He has been an unrepentant sexist for decades, from calling women “bimbos” that have to be “treat[ed] like shit” to acting on his beliefs and cheating on his wives. He has shown himself to be a racist, from saying “laziness is a trait in blacks” to real housing discrimination against black people in New York. He incites violence at his rallies, levels slurs at reporters, and insults the looks of his opponents (and their wives). His campaign openly courts white supremacists and plays to the worst kind of white identity politics. He is not a conservative but a demagogue whose malevolence is matched only by his ignorance.
And yet Boehner, along with other pillars of the Republican establishment, prefers to malign Cruz’s character. Instead of following the lead of moderates like Mitt Romney, Jeb Bush and Lindsay Graham to coalesce around Cruz and defeat the evil of Trumpism, Boehner remains stubborn, petty and shallow, resigning himself to Trump’s victory and assailing his opponents. After all, there is power to maintain.
Now more than ever, the Republican Party and conservatives need to be united in an all-out effort to save the party and country from Trump. Conservatives from George Will to Charles Krauthammer to Bill Kristol to the whole National Review have stood firm against Trump on principle, but Republican elites are giving in. John Boehner divides us because he personally dislikes Ted Cruz. While the fire rages, Boehner misses the forest for the trees.
At Stanford, Boehner made it clear that his critics have been right. Trump stands against everything for which Boehner has worked during his 25 years in Washington, but when it matters most, Boehner is unwilling to fight a shifting tide. At Stanford, we saw Boehner uncut, uncensored, and unprincipled.