Boehner, who was once president of a small plastics company in Ohio, has spent much of his career burnishing the GOP’s identity as the party of business, building deep relationships since the 1990s with groups like the U.S. Chamber by providing legislative favors and easy access through countless receptions and rounds of golf.
In return, business groups have helped Boehner and his counterparts in the Senate raise millions of dollars to put Republicans in office, including the 2010 election of tea party lawmakers who have now roiled the GOP.
It’s this decades-long relationship that helps explain why even as one wing of the Republican Party threatened to drive the economy off a cliff, the business community has largely stuck by its party — and its man, Boehner. These lobbyists say they are worried that Boehner has a shaky hold over his caucus.
“I don’t think [lobbyists] are going to push John to commit suicide as a political leader,” said John Motley, a longtime lobbyist and former vice president of legislative affairs at the National Federation of Independent Business. “It’s more important to have him there than to not have him there.”
Now that the shutdown and debt-ceiling fight have exposed a rift in the Republican Party, lines are being drawn in the battle for control: On one side, there is Boehner and his circle of powerful business allies. On the other, tea party lawmakers and activist groups such as Heritage Action and the Club for Growth.
“I don’t know of anybody in the business community who takes the side of the Taliban minority,” said Dirk Van Dongen, longtime chief lobbyist for the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, who has known Boehner since the lawmaker’s first election.
In the hallways of the country’s leading trade associations, there is talk about taking on tea party Republicans in at least three states.
The first is Michigan, where Rep. Justin Amash, who had been challenging Boehner during the debt-ceiling fight, is facing a possible challenge from a business-backed candidate. Business lobbyists also talk about funding a challenge to another tea-party-backed Republican incumbent, Rep. Kerry Bentivolio.
Another area for possible combat occurs in a special election next month in the 1st District of Alabama, where former state senator Bradley Byrne, a self-described business-oriented Republican, faces off against Dean Young, a tea party-endorsed candidate who says he’s “against homosexuals pretending that they are married.”