House Republicans are not touting a national manifesto ahead of the midterm elections, as they did with 1994’s Contract with America. Their plan to offer a replacement for President Obama's health-care law has fizzled.
But they are now rallying behind a central, if low-key, figure: House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who a year ago was weakened by the federal government shutdown, but has since recovered much of his once-diminished political capital.
The sudden elevation of Boehner, 64, is surprising for a party overloaded with tea party stars and White House hopefuls. Yet in a summer of Republican unease and tumult, Boehner's workmanlike manner and institutional standing has led to a string of successes and new-found support.
In recent days, Boehner has become his party’s leading voice on foreign and domestic policy as well as its calming congressional hand, passing legislation this week by large margins to fund the government through December, extend the Export-Import Bank’s charter, and grant President Obama the authority to arm and train Syrian rebels to combat the Islamic State.
On Thursday, Boehner will deliver an economic speech at the American Enterprise Institute and spell out his party’s agenda, announcing a five-point plan to spur hiring, revamp the tax code, and axe regulations.
"We can do do this the Washington way, move around some dirt, see what happens. Or, we can lay a solid foundation for growth and mobility," Boehner will say, according to excerpts released by his office. "The problem is, Washington's approach is so top-down, and the bureaucracy so lumbering, that the government is keeping us from where we need to be."
“We do these five things in a meaningful way, we can reset the foundation of our economy for the next two or three generations," he will add. "Provide a reliable stream of good-paying jobs. More stability and security, straight on through retirement. And more opportunities for every American to get ahead, not just get by.”
The message is predictable, and features little that Boehner has not said many times before. Still, it reflects what his ever-nervous members want: reliable Republican talking points on energy, taxes, and education, plus some well-placed potshots for Senate Democrats and the president.
Boehner’s move to the fore of the party can be credited to a confluence of factors, from the stunning defeat of then-House majority leader Eric Cantor (Va.) in a June primary to a lack of competition for the role.
Cantor’s abrupt departure left Boehner as the lone long-serving member in the upper ranks of the House Republican leadership and effectively made him the unofficial director of his party's playbook, at least for the campaign's closing stretch, as others’ attention is turned elsewhere.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), immersed in a hotly contested reelection race, has been focused on his home state's politics. Most of the potential 2016 presidential contenders have resisted ramping up their White House bids until after the election. And Reince Priebus, the chairman of the National Republican Committee, is not responsible for policy-making.
Boehner has stepped in and filled the vacuum of power, using the unrest to become a stabilizing force for his traditionally rancorous conference, guiding them away from another fiscal standoff and urging them to stick to a hawkish line on foreign policy, in spite of their reservations about the president.
At the White House's congressional picnic on Wednesday, Obama praised Boehner for helping to lift his request through the House, even as a debate rages in the GOP over the United States' role in the world.
"I want to in particular thank Speaker Boehner and Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi for showing us that when it comes to America's national security, America is united," Obama said as lawmakers ate barbecue.
If House Republicans end up holding on to their majority in November, and especially if they pick up seats, Boehner stands poised to be rewarded with another term as speaker, a notion that not long ago was far from certain.
In January 2013, there was a failed coup attempt by some hardline conservatives. During last year's 16-day shutdown, whispers about eventually replacing Boehner filled the Republican cloakroom.
Such talk has dissipated, and Boehner's rivals have quieted.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Tex.), an occasional leadership foe, brushed aside a question this week on whether he would seek the speaker's gavel and said he is working with Boehner to elect Republicans.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who has long criticized Boehner as an at-times feeble leader, acknowledged that Boehner has the upper hand for now within both the House GOP and the party at large.
"We didn't have leverage," King said when asked why he didn't push for another shutdown during the latest debate over government funding. "Speaker Boehner has brought a lot of people together on these issues."