Now Republican Candidates Are Taking Aim at Boehner

Challengers vow to toss the whole GOP leadership team if voters will send them to Washington.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) (R) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) participate in a news conference after attending the weekly House Republican conference at the U.S. Capitol March 25, 2014 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Billy House
April 23, 2014, 4:24 p.m.

As a con­gres­sion­al staffer, John Stone got a firsthand look at how House Speak­er John Boehner and his lead­er­ship team op­er­ate. His boss was one of its mem­bers.

Yet now, as he vies for a seat of his own in a crowded Geor­gia primary, Stone is run­ning on a prom­ise to oust those very same lead­ers — not just Boehner, but the whole team.

“When I got here in the dis­trict “¦ what I kept hear­ing is, we’ve got to change the party lead­er­ship,” Stone said. “We need to end the GOP’s civil war between the es­tab­lish­ment and the con­ser­vat­ive base, and get every­body in­to the same tent.”

While anti-in­cum­bent sen­ti­ment has played a strong role in many elec­tions, run­ning spe­cific­ally against House Re­pub­lic­an lead­ers — in­clud­ing Boehner, Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Eric Can­tor, Ma­jor­ity Whip Kev­in Mc­Carthy, Con­fer­ence Chair Cathy Mc­Mor­ris Rodgers, and the rest — is nov­el. Moreover, Stone is not the only one.

The Re­pub­lic­an Trust Polit­ic­al Ac­tion Com­mit­tee cred­its Stone, 58, as the first can­did­ate in the na­tion to sign the or­gan­iz­a­tion’s pledge to vote for an all-new House GOP lead­er­ship team. But it also says can­did­ates in Geor­gia, Arkan­sas, and North Car­o­lina have done the same.

How this plays out in their races — let alone if they get elec­ted — is any­body’s guess. But Stone is go­ing to find out soon, with early vot­ing start­ing Monday in Geor­gia’s 12th Dis­trict and the primary com­ing May 20.

Stone is an odd test case. As a former chief of staff to Rep. John Carter of Texas, who was sec­ret­ary of the House Re­pub­lic­an Con­fer­ence from 2007 un­til Rep. Vir­gin­ia Foxx took over the post in 2013, Stone worked for a mem­ber of House lead­er­ship. He left Carter’s of­fice last year to make his second run for the seat.

Yet, Stone says he does not re­gard his cam­paign prom­ise to help bounce GOP lead­ers as trait­or­ous or polit­ic­ally dan­ger­ous. In­stead, he brags about it in press re­leases and ads as he cam­paigns against fel­low Re­pub­lic­ans Rick Al­len, Eu­gene Yu, Delvis Dut­ton, and Di­ane Vann. The vic­tor will face Demo­crat John Bar­row in the gen­er­al elec­tion.

As Stone tells it, it is time to put new blood in place that can heal di­vi­sions and “re­unite us be­hind a com­mon, in­nov­at­ive, and reen­er­gized con­ser­vat­ive agenda for Amer­ica.” In short, he says, it’s not per­son­al.

“I love every one of them to death,” he said of the cur­rent GOP lead­er­ship team.

Not all those who took the pledge feel the same. For in­stance, Bri­an Slow­in­ski, who is run­ning in a five-way Re­pub­lic­an primary in Geor­gia’s open 10th Dis­trict, proudly calls him­self the second can­did­ate in the na­tion to sign the Trust’s pledge. “We need to Fire Boehner and throw the rest of the Bums out!” Slow­in­ski says on his web­site.

Of course, the no­tion of con­ser­vat­ive angst over Boehner’s lead­er­hip is noth­ing new. Frus­trated House con­ser­vat­ives have been act­ively schem­ing to pen­et­rate the top ranks of the House, per­haps even by try­ing to force Boehner to step aside.

Some in­cum­bent House con­ser­vat­ives, like New Mex­ico’s Steve Pearce, even vo­cally re­mind audi­ences that they op­pose Boehner, and voted against him for speak­er in early 2013. “Prob­ably the most pop­u­lar vote I’ve made in the dis­trict,” he told Na­tion­al Journ­al.

But how wide­spread the dis­con­tent is, and wheth­er it can trans­late in­to ac­tion, is still un­clear. It is even less clear wheth­er at­tacks on House lead­er­ship will res­on­ate with voters.

The Trust’s ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or, Scott Wheel­er, calls Stone “cour­ageous,” and his group claims the pledge is the right move in his dis­trict, point­ing to in­tern­al polling the or­gan­iz­a­tion has con­duc­ted.

Re­pub­lic­an cam­paign strategists are thus far mute on the top­ic. “We have no play in primar­ies what­so­ever,” said Katie Prill, a re­gion­al spokes­wo­man for the Na­tion­al Re­pub­lic­an Con­gres­sion­al Com­mit­tee.

As for Stone, he was not ex­pect­ing any cam­paign help from Wash­ing­ton. And he’s can­did about what hap­pens if he does get elec­ted — only to find that Boehner and his team are af­ter­ward able to stay in power by win­ning their in­tern­al GOP lead­er­ship elec­tions for the new ses­sion.

“I guess then we’ll have to smooth over the wa­ters,” he said, “and find some way to work to­geth­er.”

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