Nevertheless, retiring Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) acknowledged that anytime a Speaker oversees a losing year, there might be pressure to step aside or shake up the leadership team.
Burton is in a unique position to judge Boehner’s standing. As one of former Speaker Newt Gingrich’s (Ga.) closest allies, he bore personal witness to the Speaker’s demise in 1998, when Republicans lost five seats but retained their majority. Within three days of the elections, Gingrich resigned.
“Well I’ve been there when they went after Newt. I was one of Newt’s lieutenants, and he had me count votes for him the day that he went down the tubes. And I called him up and I says, ‘You don’t have 218,’” Burton said.
“There was silence on the phone. He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘Well there’s probably 15 or 20 guys that aren’t going to vote for you, so you’re not going to get 218,’” Burton continued.
To be sure, there are significant differences between Boehner and Gingrich — in July 1997 Gingrich faced a failed coup attempt, and his bombastic personality had long been seen as a liability to the party.
Neither of those issues has been a problem for Boehner, who remains deeply popular within his Conference on a personal level. And aside from occasional ribbing for his penchant for crying, he has never been viewed as a public image liability.
“Boehner’s goal is to have a personal relationship with every House Republican Member. He is proud of the progress our team has made on the American people’s priorities at a time when Washington is still controlled by Democrats — and he’s eager to accomplish more,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said.
Indeed, sources close to Boehner said Gingrich’s rise and fall have served as a cautionary tale for Boehner, who as one source noted, “had a front row seat” during Gingrich’s fall from grace.
Still, Gingrich wasn’t forced out until the GOP suffered losses during the 1998 midterm elections. It was President Bill Clinton’s second midterm election, and opposition parties typically gain House seats during midterm elections.
“It does happen. But I think Boehner’s a pretty smart politician. And I think Cantor’s a smart politician. I think they’re both smart. And I don’t see, if we retain the House and things go fairly well, I don’t see a big change,” Burton said.
At least for now, even some of Boehner’s critics are discounting the prospect of a bad year.
“There’s a frustration with this president and his policies. I think it’s going to be a good year for Republicans,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) said.
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