Politics & Media
Feb 10, 2015, 09:50AM

Republicans Against Boehner and McConnell

Bobby Jindal has to sneer at someone.

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Usually you expect candidates for the GOP presidential nomination trying to curry favor with influential Republicans. Winning a nomination means endorsements, money and support from party leaders; ergo, you should be nice to those party leaders. Or at least, you shouldn't go out of your way to antagonize them.

So it was a little surprising when, last week, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, currently running hard for president, launched a full-throated sneer at some of the most powerful people in the Republican Party. Specifically, he called out John Boehner and Mitch McConnell for not doing enough to repeal Obamacare. "If the whole point of [the 2014] election was just simply to give John Boehner and Mitch McConnell nicer offices, let’s give them back," Jindal declared.

As a strategy for victory, this seems bizarre. You're deliberately pissing off Boehner and McConnell, people who, as a candidate, you'd think you'd want in your corner. And what's the upside? It would be one thing if Boehner and McConnell were hugely unpopular with Republicans. But, as Jonathan Bernstein points out, they aren't hugely unpopular. They aren't hugely popular either; for the most part, no one has heard of them. "Most citizens have no idea who Boehner and McConnell are—or Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid," Bernstein argues. "Yet Republicans have not only aimed enormous firepower at those Democratic leaders, but a fair amount at Boehner, too."

Bernstein finds this baffling. He tentatively floats the possibility that Republicans are trying to show how savvy they are. "Maybe a Republican can show real acuity by appreciating attacks on relatively obscure figures, and that creates a demand for Jindal and others to fill," he speculates. He admits that that doesn't sound like a very convincing reason, though.

I think I have a better explanation. Republican attacks on Congressional leaders don't have anything in particular to do with the individuals attacked—which is why Boehner is as good as Pelosi is as good as McConnell for Jindal's purposes. Rather, the point is simply to attack Congress itself.

Americans in general, and Republicans in particular, hate Washington. The Federal government is always figured as innately evil; Congress is always corrupt and out of touch. By sneering at Boehner and McConnell, Jindal isn't showing that he's savvy—he's showing that he's the opposite of savvy. He is not an insider; he is opposed to all those people who are already sitting in the capital, whatever their names or their parties may be. This is clear in his further comments, in which he tells Congressional Republicans that they need to repeal Obamacare, and warns, "Don’t become just cheaper Democrats. We don’t need Democrat-lite.”

There's no way the Congress can repeal Obamacare; they don't have the votes to override an Obama veto. But that's fine with Jindal. He doesn't really want Obamacare repealed. He just wants to come across as a true conservative who hates Congress, just like all conservative Americans hate Congress.

Democrats can hate Congress too, but the rhetoric is slightly different. In 2008 Barack Obama talked about how he was going to sweep into Washington and get everyone to compromise and get things done. He promised essentially to make Congress work better—and when you're promising greater efficiency and comity, it doesn't make much sense to create a personalized scapegoat or villain. But Republicans are much more apt to demonize the legislature as innately malevolent, and its easier to hate someone if they're someone specific. So Republicans hate specific members of Congress, not because they think anyone actually cares about Nancy Pelosi or Mitch McConnell, but because if you're going to denounce someone, you denounce them by name.

—Follow Noah Berlatsky on Twitter: @hoodedu

  • I think that's true about the GOP hating Congress and wanting to have a person, not just an institution, to throw rocks at. But looking at Bernstein's post, it seems he's putting too much weight on what "most voters" know. My guess is that Jindal is trying to get in with the hardcore conservatives, since those are people who turn out for GOP presidential primaries. A lot of the hardcores do know who Boehner and McConnell are, and being true believers they figure the guys must be personally responsible for the failure of the wingnut wish list to become legislation. As a Dem I think McConnell is very effective, so I've always been struck by the number of right-wing bloggers and activists who sneer at him.

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  • God, kick these fucking idiots to the curb. Jindal is the one appealing to hardcore conservatives and yet his own office had a portrait done of him as a white man? I mean, what the fuck is going on in Louisiana?

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  • The Jindal portrait wasn't commissioned by Jindal's office. A constituent painted the thing, and Jindal's people hung it in the office. Anyway, what's the contradiction between appealing to hardcore conservatives and having your portrait done up white?

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  • Keep in mind that many conservatives hate the repub establishment as "dem lite" or "the same only slower". Reaching across the aisle means doing things the dem way and getting attaboys from the clerisy. Various elections the repubs have lost are said, by conservatives, to have been because conservatives stayed home. There was a case in, iirc, NC, where the conservatives primaried out a really obvious case of dem-lite and put in a conservative who lost the general. For the House, iirc. Point was there was nothing to lose by having a dem in and maybe the lesson would be clear to the repub operatives. Other times, conservatives have talked about voting dem in the primary or general to teach the repub establishment. Their point is, dem or dem lite both work against conservative issues so why not hammer the guys who might be convinced, which is the repub establishment. And Boehner and McConnell are considered dem lite by many conservatives.

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  • And there we have exhibit A for my thesis.

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  • You're about half right. A federal government which can do a Ruby Ridge and a Waco and the only result is the othering of the victims by the Semi-Professionall Exceptionally Wonderful (SPEW), can make Kelo takings and civil asset forfeiture the law of the land, can use agencies of the government to punish political opponents (IRS, EPA, DoJ, etc.) is considered by conservatives A Very Bad Thing. For comparison, see the list of offenses in the Declaration. Weak beer, indeed. So, yeah, Washington is where this stuff comes from so what's not to hate? However, since air conditioning was invented, these clowns are going to be at it year around and we may as well elect those who will do us the least harm. And whether they, like Boehner and McConnell are known for being unknown--did I read you right--or are well-known like McCain, or are anonymous, if they're dem lite, then try to get them out.

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  • C.T. that's possible. I'm skeptical that the conservative enthusiasts necessarily are any better informed than most folks, but I guess it's possible.// I don't know that McConnell has actually been that effective. He's good at slowing things down, but he eventually pushed Dems to get rid of the filibuster on nominees, effectively preventing Reps. from having any influence over the process.// Also, slowing things down means he can't get conservative legislation either. You don't compromise, you lose the ability to affect policy in meaningful ways.

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