May 7, 2014

WaPo’s Costa: Boehner ‘Swatted Away’ Primary Opposition, Which Got a Possible Record 31% of Vote

Robert Costa’s disdain for Tea Party-sympathetic conservatives was quite evident tonight in his coverage of Republican House Speaker John Boehner’s primary victory at the Washington Post. Costa, a former writer at National Review, even insulted the noble pursuits of justice and the truth regarding Benghazi and the IRS’s targeting of conservative and other groups by calling them “red meat for the tea party faithful.”

The WaPo reporter characterized Boeher as having “swatted away” his opposition without revealing that the Speaker got only 69 percent of the vote. Yes, I wrote “only.” Costa himself noted that “a sitting speaker still has never been defeated in a primary election,” but didn’t disclose Boehner’s percentage of the vote. That’s odd to say the least. I don’t recall a sitting speaker ever losing 31 percent of the vote in a party primary, and it’s possible that it has never happened outside of circumstances involving scandal or crime. I certainly don’t recall a sitting speaker opening his wallet to defend his seat in a primary as Boehner did. Excerpts and analysis follow the jump (bolds are mine):

Boehner wins Ohio primary, despite national unpopularity among GOP base


House Speaker John A. Boehner cruised to victory Tuesday, easily beating two tea party challengers in his Ohio congressional district and proving that in spite of his unpopularity with the Republican base, his grip on power at home remains firm.

It was a rare moment of celebration for Boehner, who has endured a rough year, from the ongoing fights within his party over immigration reform to the tumult of October’s government shutdown.

Boehner’s win, however, does little to provide him with a significant boost in political capital in Washington, where he has been dogged by rumors about retiring and, failing that, a host of conservative critics who are plotting to oust him from his post later this year.

Instead of being emboldened by his primary sweep and rushing to bring bipartisan legislation to the floor, Boehner is more likely to continue to inch forward on immigration and other issues, wary of alienating those on his right, even though he has just swatted away their allies.

Boehner is constrained by the weakening of the gavel and the institutional authority of the Republican Party in recent years. A constellation of well-funded conservative pressure groups and Boehner’s swearing off earmarks have created a House culture where the leadership has little to offer and battling the leadership has become a mark of tea party toughness.

“Battling the leadership” has become important because the GOP’s “leadership” often doesn’t do a lot of leading. Boehner himself has said that it’s not his job. For all of their considerable faults, it’s impossible to imagine Newt Gingrich, Tom Foley, Jim Wright, Nancy Pelosi, Tip O’Neill, or even Denny Hastert taking that kind of comprehensive, hands-off stance. It’s fair to ask if there’s a point to being Speaker if you won’t take a stand on issues.


More red meat for the tea party faithful is on the way ahead of November, with the GOP leadership promising more investigations of not only the State Department, but also of the Internal Revenue Service and its handling of applications from conservative advocacy organizations.

In Ohio, several tea party groups had targeted Boehner for months, hoping to generate nationwide interest in the race. The Tea Party Leadership Fund spent more than $300,000 on efforts to defeat the 12-term congressman, and ForAmerica, an outfit run by conservative activist L. Brent Bozell, launched a “dump the leadership” campaign.

But due to his rivals’ scarce funds and stumbles, and the reluctance of more influential conservative groups to jump into the race and back a challenger, Boehner’s survival was never in doubt — and a sitting speaker still has never been defeated in a primary election.

(Note: Bozell is President of the Media Research Center, NewsBusters’ parent. An April 22 For America blog post asserted that “Speaker Boehner kowtows and retreats at every demand or challenge issued by the Obama Administration and their liberal allies.”)

My original take on the Eighth District race once it showed up on the radar as something worthy of note was that Boehner was exhibiting mild concern about his opposition when he began airing radio and TV ads in early April.

As the weeks wore on, it became clear that the Speaker had mounted an all-out media blitz. Costa notes that Boehner even “frequently hit the trail” — something he has almost never done during primaries in his 22 years in office.

The point: Boehner was trying to run up the score. Given the amount of time and money he spent, getting 69 percent of the vote did not successfully accomplish that goal. What the result shows, contrary to Costa’s condescending fly-swatting assertion, is that there is significant concern about Boehner’s declared non-leadership, even in his home district.

Exit questions: When’s the last time a reporter ever used a “red meat” characterization to describe issues favored by leftists? And if you find one in even the past month, how many such characterizations involving Republicans and conservatives occurred during the same period? Answer: Surely a large multiple.

Cross-posted at


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