How good a speaker has John Boehner been?

I’ve been hanging out at the American Political Science Association annual meeting in Washington this week. I was a bit surprised when two people who study American politics volunteered that they believed Boehner had done an excellent job, given the constraints he has faced. The reason I was surprised wasn’t that I disagree with this assessment. To my mind, Boehner is one of only three people (with Tip O’Neill and Nancy Pelosi) who have done the job well in the modern House, since a cycle of reform ended in the 1970s. I was surprised because this isn’t something a lot of people talk about.

So I asked the next five Americanists I ran into and received a bit more confirmation: three gave solid endorsements of the speaker, one gave a lukewarm endorsement and one was much less enthusiastic.

I figure it’s worth reporting because I don’t think this largely positive view among political scientists is reflected in the speaker’s image in the media, where he comes off as ineffective, not particularly good at the job, and probably doomed.

Political scientists, on the other hand, tended to emphasize the political context of divided government and an impossible House Republican conference, all of which they treated as givens for the speaker, rather than something he created or could potentially affect.

I continue to be believe that Boehner will keep his job as long as he wants it — certainly if divided government persists and very possibly if Republicans win unified control. And I think that as long as that lasts, Republicans will achieve as much as they can, given the severe constraints of divided government and the Republican conference.

[Cross-posted at Bloomberg View]

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Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.