What was John Boehner thinking when describing Ted Cruz as “Lucifer in the flesh” last week? Whatever Boehner intended, those remarks didn’t just come as an extemporaneous word-association game. Reader Jason J reminded us yesterday that Boehner made the same comment about Cruz several weeks ago, during a Q&A session in Boca Raton with the Future Industry Association:
During the same question-and-answer session in Florida, Mr. Boehner referred to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, another Republican presidential candidate, as “Lucifer.”
Mr. Boehner has previously called the senator, who led a failed Republican effort to shut down the government over the Affordable Care Act, a “jackass.”
The appearance made news at the time for Boehner’s endorsement of Paul Ryan for the Republican presidential nomination. Politico reported on the endorsement, but missed Boehner’s The Exorcist moment at the time:
Former Speaker John Boehner said Paul Ryan should be the Republican nominee for president if the party fails to choose a candidate on the first ballot.
“If we don’t have a nominee who can win on the first ballot, I’m for none of the above,” Boehner said at the Futures Industry Association conference here. “They all had a chance to win. None of them won. So I’m for none of the above. I’m for Paul Ryan to be our nominee.”
Clearly, Boehner has a particular animus for Cruz — and Boehner has chosen to express it as an accusation of Cruz being evil incarnate in the middle of a presidential primary fight. Why? Cruz has his suspicions, and no problem returning the favor. In an interview with CBS News, Cruz ripped Trump for “perpetuating one of the greatest frauds in the history of modern elections,” and cited Boehner’s supportive words for the front-runner as proof. In fact, Cruz quipped, the “Lucifer” comments sounded as if the former Speaker had sold his soul for a chance to be Trump’s running mate:
Texas senator and Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz said Friday that he wondered whether former House Speaker John Boehner “was auditioning to be Donald Trump’s vice president” when Boehner praised Trump and savaged Cruz during a public appearance this week.
“Donald Trump is attempting to perpetuate one of the greatest frauds in the history of modern elections, which is he is trying to convince people that he’s some sort of outsider,” Cruz told host John Dickerson during an interview taped for Sunday’s broadcast. “Donald is the essence of the Washington insider. He has been enmeshed in the corruption in Washington.”
“One of the things that illustrated that powerfully this week was when John Boehner went out of his way to attack me, to call me the devil,” Cruz continued. “And then he praised two people. John Boehner praised Hillary Clinton, and he praised Donald Trump. He said Donald was his friend, was his golfing and texting buddy.”
Cruz was clearly hoping to tie Trump to a figure that has personified the Republican establishment for angry grass-roots and populist voters on the Right. But … what if Boehner was auditioning to be Trump’s wingman in the general election?
It’s a thought worth considering. No matter what, the GOP has to win Ohio in November, regardless of whether one calculates the Electoral College vote route along the traditional swing-state path (as in Going Red) or on the Rust Belt path. That’s why John Kasich was an obvious running-mate choice for both Trump and Cruz until Kasich went #NeverTrump this week in the deal with Cruz. He’d still make a good choice, but Trump holds grudges, and he may not want the independent-minded Kasich on the ticket.
If Kasich is out, then Boehner makes some sense. He hasn’t won statewide in Ohio, but he’s still well-liked there. Trump’s call for unity at the California GOP convention could get boosted by offering a key role to the Republican establishment, even if it will end up proving Cruz’ point in a way that a Kasich pick wouldn’t. Plus, Boehner knows how to cut deals with Democrats on Capitol Hill — another point Cruz would likely highlight — and Trump’s all about making deals. Boehner, who’s supposedly looking to keep his hand in the game, would see this as a way to return to Washington with real juice, not as a lobbyist but as Trump’s right hand in policy-making … and in position to marginalize the conservative factions that made his last few years in the Beltway miserable, too.
If Trump’s thinking about Boehner as running mate, he’d have to know that he couldn’t possibly let that out until after the nomination gets secured, either in California or at the convention. Otherwise, he’d risk shredding the anti-establishment energy that has the brass ring within reach.