At that moment, GOP activists across the country wondered: Did Boehner misspeak? Did he inadvertently wander off the tax-cutting reservation?

No, he didn’t. It was intentional. Talks with people in the Boehner circle suggest the minority leader’s statements were carefully thought out and planned. The goal was to avoid being jammed by majority Democrats into voting against a Democratic bill that would extend all the Bush cuts except those on the highest earners. Nobody wanted to see the headline: GOP VOTES AGAINST TAX CUTS FOR MIDDLE CLASS.

“Boehner doesn’t want to get caught in a trap by saying that if he doesn’t get tax cuts for one group, he’s not going to allow tax cuts for anybody,” says one knowledgeable GOP strategist. “If he can get tax cuts for the middle class, he’s going to take it. This isn’t going to be one of those situations where he’s going to cut off his nose to spite his face.” Another person close to Boehner says the statement was “intended to undermine the Obama talking point that Republicans are holding middle-class tax cuts hostage.”