Can the White House Turn John Boehner Into a Villain?

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Lots of people noticed that in his speech in Cleveland earlier this week, President Obama mentioned House Minority Leader John Boehner eight times. This may or may not mean that turning Boehner into a villain is a key part of the White House's strategy going into the fall elections. But if it is, can it be successful?

You might think, well, Boehner's not the most charming guy in the world, but he's not as repellent as, say, Newt Gingrich. But let's look at the numbers. There haven't been many polls testing people's feelings about Boehner, but one from Gallup in April found 29 percent with a favorable view of him, 32 percent with an unfavorable view, and 39 percent with no opinion either way. Frankly, it's surprising that 61 percent of the public claims to have an opinion about him, but this is the kind of thing polls tend to overstate -- people want to seem informed, and it doesn't really cost anything for a respondent to say "favorable" or "unfavorable" to the interviewer, when in truth they've got only the faintest notion of who the guy is. That being said, back in October of 1994, Gallup showed Gingrich's ratings at 19 percent approval, 22 percent disapproval, and 59 percent with no opinion. It took a while for people to realize how awful Gingrich was.

So what are the prospects for Boehner? Well, you can make fun of his tan, as lots of people do. If you're trying to make someone an object of scorn, it helps if you can ridicule him. But other than that, there isn't much distinctive about him. He's something of a country-club Republican. You can certainly say he's more interested in working for the interests of the wealthy than the middle class. He may be willing to embrace pretty much any attack on Democrats anyone writes on an index card and puts on his lectern, but he doesn't come across as some kind of crazy person we should be terrified of. More like a packaging and plastics salesman -- which is what he was.

On the other hand, if the White House puts their mind to it, they could probably turn him into a snarling beast. It's not that hard to do.

-- Paul Waldman

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