Rep. John Boehner on Bob Barr, Jeff Flake, and Losing Elections


I grabbed lunch at a surprisingly subdued meeting between House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) and around 50 conservative bloggers, reporters, and think-tankers. The American Spectator and Americans for Tax Reform hosted. Boehner's message of the day was "American-made energy," his buzz word for the campaign that Republicans will run against Democrats who refuse to drill in Alaska, shale, or offshore deposits. And most of the questions politely focused on energy.

My one question was about Bob Barr. Boehner said he hadn't talked to Barr since he launched his Libertarian presidential bid, but "if I were talking to a conservative I'd suggest that they allow their vote to count and vote for John McCain. Bob Barr's not going to win." When I asked what he thought of the idea that a Barr vote would shock the GOP into reforming itself (in a more libertarian direction, one assumes), Boehner flashed a get-real kind of smile. "A vote for Bob Barr—you might as well vote for Barack Obama. If you want to throw your vote away, that's fine. But that's what it would be."

Phillip Klein of the American Spectator (and occasionally of reason), teeing off Boehner's talk of "reform," asked why Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) didn't get a seat on the House Appropriations Committee. "The steering committee decided that another member was more qualified for the job," Boehner said, "and the steering committee made that decision. I know that a lot of people control the steering committee. I wish I did!"

Michael Barone asked Boehner an open-ended question about the party's chances of taking back the House. "John McCain has a good chance of winning," Boehner said. The implication of that dodge was pretty obvious. When James Poulos asked a follow-up question about House retirements, Boehner said the party had a good chance in "23 or 24" of the seats opened up by Republican departures. There have been 30 such departures.