John Boehner stirs up Washington with 'Lucifer' comment

A comment by former House Speaker John Boehner is a reminder of two things: the personal still matters in politics, and Ted Cruz hasn't played that game well.

Darron Cummings/AP
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz speaks during a campaign stop in Indianapolis on April 27.

Former Speaker of the House John Boehner is not a Ted Cruz fan. Boehner called the Texas senator “Lucifer in the flesh” on Wednesday during an appearance at Stanford University.

You read that right. This is the recently retired leader of all House Republicans talking about someone who still has an outside chance of winning his party’s presidential nomination and is the establishment’s only real hope of stopping Donald Trump.

Apparently, Mr. Boehner has said this before in other settings, but this time the reference has roiled Washington’s chattering social media. On Wednesday, as reported by the Stanford Daily, he expounded on the theme a bit, adding, “I have Democrat friends and Republican friends. I get along with almost everyone, but I have never worked with a more miserable [expletive] in my life.”

If nothing else, this shows that in the partisan, fast-paced and social-media drenched world of modern Washington, the personal still matters.

For years, Senator Cruz made Boehner’s life miserable, politically speaking. The two men are in the same party, but members of very different factions.

Boehner was the essential inside politico, someone who worked his way up to the top job step by step. Cruz is an elected lawmaker, but still an outsider, someone who pushes his own party leadership in directions it does not want to go. Cruz encouraged rebel GOP House members to challenge Boehner’s decisions. Eventually Boehner decided he’d had enough conflict and it was better for everyone for him to step aside.

In that way, Cruz won.

But now, Cruz actually needs the Republican establishment’s help. He’s the candidate best positioned to block Mr. Trump – someone many in the party consider an apostate – from winning the nomination. Boehner’s words show how much of a struggle it may be for many in the party’s elected top ranks to rally around their unlikely champion.

Once upon a time, of course, Washington didn’t work this way.

It’s a pundit truism that back in the day, when Republican President Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill could sit back and swap bad jokes after a long day’s work, Washington worked better. The parties could strike deals. Compromise was made easier by personal relationships, which built trust.

Today? Forget it. Lawmakers work long hours. They go home to families, not work gatherings. Partisanship precludes much interaction between opponents.

That’s the way this trope runs, in any case.

Perhaps that’s overblown. Interaction on political and party matters may still be fertile ground for people – friends and frenemies alike – to get to know each other.

But Cruz has embodied the new Washington-as-dysfunctional trope in many ways. He’s brought a scorched-earth policy to Capitol Hill and spent little time building relationships among the people that hold the power.

That has only emphasized his personal brand. He’s long argued that GOP insiders are selling out the party’s grass roots.

But it’s indicative that only four fellow Republican have endorsed Cruz for president.

Poised on the verge of what could be the most important few weeks of his political life, Cruz is standing on his scorched earth largely alone.

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