Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

Boehner's choice: Tea party or America?

By Maria Cardona, CNN Contributor
updated 9:46 AM EDT, Mon October 21, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Maria Cardona: Shutdown resolution hinged on whether Boehner would defy tea party
  • She says Boehner's job appears safe, but some question his leadership
  • She says he seems to ignore interests of Americans in favor of tea party, a losing proposition
  • Cardona: Boehner must lead if he wants to save GOP House districts that appear vulnerable

Editor's note: Maria Cardona is a Democratic strategist, a principal at the Dewey Square Group, a former senior adviser to Hillary Clinton and former communications director for the Democratic National Committee.

(CNN) -- Speaking to the nation after Congress reached a deal to reopen the government and temporarily raise the debt ceiling, President Barack Obama said we are "Americans first" and need to put partisan interests aside to get things done.

But can we? The recent shenanigans do not bode well for the future.

The resolution of the shutdown always hinged on whether House Speaker John Boehner, a Republican, would defy the tea party hard-liners in his party and allow a vote on a bill that a majority of Republicans did not support. What have we learned about Boehner's leadership, or lack thereof?

Maria Cardona
Maria Cardona

We are already hearing two extreme viewpoints. Rep. Raul Labrador and other staunch conservatives and tea party members gave him kudos. Boehner's job as speaker of the House seems safe, at least for now. But others in the Republican Party, and outside of it, say Boehner needs to grow a spine to stand up against the tea party caucus and Sen. Ted Cruz, the ultimate architect of the shutdown fiasco of 2013.

Such differing views about the role Boehner played and how he led his troops reflects the exact polarization that produced the fingernails-to-the-chalkboard tension that caused the shutdown face-off in the first place.

GOP, Boehner take shutdown hit in new CNN poll

In press conferences and TV appearances, Cruz and House tea party members said time and time again that they were doing what the "American people" asked them to do. They talked about those who cheered on the government shutdown to get rid of the Affordable Care Act.

But polls say most Americans disapproved of the Republican tactics and did not want the government to shut down over Obamacare. These Americans give a historically low disapproval rating to Republicans and the tea party in particular. Those same numbers give Obama and the Democrats confidence in saying they are the ones who are actually listening to the American people.

Republicans take hit in new CNN poll
Analysis: Tea party caucus like vampires
Boehner: 'We fought the good fight'

The problem for Boehner as a leader of a fractured caucus is that he is listening to only a small but loud fraction of the American electorate. The voices of this America are vengeful if they don't get their way. And their leaders were clearly able to compel Boehner to rebuff the other more mainstream and moderate America that seeks compromise and resolution.

So did Boehner display good leadership? For his tea party caucus, yes. For the country, no. And yet, going to the mat for the tea party might enable Boehner to push them hard to avoid this destructive path next time. It might give him the backbone he will need to stand up to them in the coming months and listen to the other "America" that represents more reasonable middle-of-the-road voices. These also happen to be a majority of the country -- Republicans, Democrats and independents. They are the voters that decide presidential elections and are precisely the ones the tea party is alienating.

A defeated GOP wants to unite, move on, fight another day

The bigger problem for moderate and pragmatic Republicans is that the tea party doesn't care about the Republican Party's shrinking White House prospects. But it does care about its own and about keeping control of the House of Representatives. This could be enough to get the tea party to rethink its strategy.

Americans have had it. The most recent CNN poll shows 54% of Americans think it is a bad thing for the country that the GOP controls Congress. For the first time ever, polls show 60% of voters are ready to boot all of Congress out -- including their own representatives.

While many strategists believe the House is still safe for Republicans, a recent Public Policy Polling survey, conducted by the Democratic pollster for MoveOn.org, a liberal activist group, suggests that the Democrats in competitive Republican districts are ahead. And Democrats need only to flip 17 districts to gain control of the House.

There are 17 districts held by Republicans that Obama won in 2012. There are 17 districts held by Republicans where Obama lost by 2 points or less. These are districts where because of Boehner's poor leadership anti-tea party backlash could help Democrats win seats.

Boehner's leadership will soon be tested yet again -- on immigration, the farm bill and the budget, the three issues that Obama says he will push in the remainder of his term. He can choose to be a strong leader for the tea party, or be a strong leader for the country, truly work with Obama and the Democrats, and help heal the battered image of his party and of Washington. He can seal his fate as a true leader, or as the captain of the Titanic.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Maria Cardona.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 3:47 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
updated 5:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
updated 6:21 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
updated 10:17 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
updated 5:39 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
updated 7:12 PM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
updated 12:53 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
updated 10:55 AM EDT, Wed October 1, 2014
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
updated 7:03 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
updated 3:11 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
updated 10:13 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
updated 10:19 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
updated 9:29 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
updated 2:59 PM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
updated 9:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
updated 9:32 AM EDT, Tue September 30, 2014
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
updated 8:33 AM EDT, Mon September 29, 2014
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
updated 5:37 PM EDT, Tue September 23, 2014
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
updated 12:58 PM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
updated 10:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
updated 9:09 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
updated 5:10 AM EDT, Wed September 24, 2014
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT