I have to confess that this one caught me by surprise. The first few months of an odd numbered year are a time for voters to temporarily forget about the barrage of political ads they suffered through during the previous fall. For political entities, it’s a time to be raising money to refill their depleted coffers, not spending it on campaigns aimed at people who have largely stopped listening. That’s why it was rather startling to find out that American Action Network (a moderate group supporting Republicans) was making ad buys aimed at attacking conservative Republicans during this normally sleepy season.
Conservatives are seething after an outside group aligned with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) spent hundreds of thousands of dollars targeting a trio of Republican lawmakers over threats to shut down the Department of Homeland Security…
American Action Network, a nonprofit whose board includes former Boehner chief of staff Barry Jackson, launched the $300,000 ad campaign earlier this month with TV spots depicting terrorists and accusing GOP Reps. Jim Jordan (Ohio), Tim Huelskamp (Kansas) and Jim Bridenstine (R-Okla.) of putting “our security at risk.”
The campaign also included national ads on conservative talk radio, including shows hosted by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and on digital ads in the district of nine other House Republicans.
For his part, the Speaker is denying having a hand in this. That’s not shocking since he’s prohibited by law from coordinating with a group like AAN, and he’s claiming to be following Reagan’s 11th Commandment. I checked with one of our sources close to the House leadership who said privately that they truly find that this sort of thing “isn’t helpful” in trying to achieve goals which require consensus between the factions. We’ve dealt with more than a few campaigns in the past who have quietly fumed over getting “help” from outside groups which wind up torpedoing what they’re trying to accomplish. But that always puts you in a tough spot if the work is being done by people who ostensibly support you and raise a lot of money. Still, it’s easy to see how Boehner might feel like he could do without quite so many “friends” when he has a number of heavy lifts coming up.
But even without the help of outside groups, the Speaker may be flexing his muscles a bit for the battles ahead. Boehner has a few items looming on the agenda which are bound to hit a stone wall with the Freedom Caucus. One of the first ones is the so called Doc Fix proposal which will draw a lot of fire from his own side of the aisle and probably require Nancy Pelosi’s help if it’s going to pass, as we talked about last week. He also has some budget work coming up which is a perpetual bone of contention. In most of these matters, Boehner has to decide whether some compromise can be found with the conservatives or if he has enough establishment votes to move the ball down field without them while bringing along some Democrats.
This is a dangerous game no matter how you look at it, assuming you actually have an agenda you want to get through. John Boehner is facing a Senate which presents its own challenges in terms of finding 60 votes for anything the House passes, not to mention the likelihood that the President will veto anything they do manage to get to his desk. But after winning a rather historic midterm battle and finally having control of both chambers again, simply sitting on his hands and essentially saying that we’ll run the clock out until there’s a new president doesn’t sound terribly appealing. Either way, we’re not going to be seeing the House GOP looking much like Little House on the Prairie any time soon.