The Republicans have their sights set on retaking the majority in the House and John Boehner has his sights set on becoming the Speaker of the House.
To do so, the GOP will not only have to win a bunch of races around the country, but raise a small fortune in the process. And if John Boehner wants to be seen as anything other than an out-of-touch D.C. insider, he's going to have to remake his image.
Boehner began the makeover with the "Boehner for Speaker" committee, which will raise funds, lobby influentials, and spew forth the message that John Boehner is just like you and me and your neighbor. He is just a regular guy. A colorful brochure was produced by the committee, all fancy-like, with all the reasons why John is just a regular Joe. Reason number one: He played high school football. Anyone who plays high school football was and always will be just a regular guy, at least that's their logic.
Salon.com's Steve Kornacki doesn't think this image retooling is going to work for Boehner, however, much like it didn't work for Nancy Pelosi. His logic: Lots of people played high school football and lots of those people grew up to be Not Regular People. Actually, that's not his logic. This is:
If this all sounds vaguely familiar it's because Nancy Pelosi tried something similar four years ago, when Democrats found themselves with the political winds at their back — and in position to end their 12-year exile from House control. Back then, Republicans were insisting that they'd retain control of the House by playing up the prospect of a Pelosi speakership — Jane Fonda with a gavel, as one GOPer said to me at the time. And more than a few influential Democrats, still spooked by the savage effectiveness with which the GOP caricatured John Kerry in 2004, feared they might be right.
And so, Pelosi launched her own preemptive image campaign, one that downplayed her San Francisco liberalism and played up her Catholicism and family life. As the GOP increasingly featured her in their attacks, the stock reply from Pelosi's office would go something like this: Why are the Republicans attacking a churchgoing mother of five and grandmother of five? The Democrats' triumph that November seemed to vindicate the strategy, and when Pelosi was sworn in as speaker in January 2007, she surrounded herself with nearly a dozen children from her family — hammering home the grandmother image.
But the minute she became speaker, everything changed and Pelosi became the face of an institution that Americans perpetually dislike. When it comes to national public opinion, it seems, the best a speaker can do is to seek anonymity — sort of like Dennis Hastert, who hid in the shadows while his deputy, Tom DeLay, racked up awful headlines and dreadful poll numbers. But Pelosi was never interested in being another Hastert.
When it comes to Boehner, there's no reason to believe his image campaign — should he become speaker — will yield any more long-term success than Pelosi's has. The public just doesn't seem interested in learning about and relating to the personal side of legislative leaders. Voters are never that happy with Congress; it's just a question of how unhappy they are. And that unhappiness bleeds over into their opinions of congressional leaders.