What place does John Boehner hold in the American psyche? That's a question that, according to the National Journal, Democrats are going to test out in next fall's congressional election, when they try to tie every Republican in a competitive race to the honey-hued Speaker of the House. Will it work?
I'm a little skeptical, but it is true that Boehner's approval ratings have plunged. In fact, they've gone down as low as Nancy Pelosi's were before the debacle of the 2010 election. They made this nice picture from CNN polling data comparing the two:
This is mirrored in other polls; on average, around a quarter of the public likes Boehner, and around half dislike him. But there's a difference between telling a pollster you have an unfavorable opinion of a political figure and being persuaded to vote against said candidate when that political figure's picture is thrown up next to someone they don't particularly care for. As that article points out, while Boehner is at the same overall place that Pelosi was, Republicans hated (and still hate) her with a burning passion, more so than Democrats despise Boehner. And getting your base riled up is more critical in low-turnout off-year elections. When Democrats look at Boehner, I think they see a pathetic figure, but not necessarily someone they want to throttle. But the Republican venom for Pelosi is hard to overstate. Not only does she embody "San Francisco values," but she's also a powerful woman, which for many of them is so threatening that it produces a reaction that is beyond all rationality.
Nevertheless, I haven't seen much evidence that all the time Republicans have spent attacking Pelosi over the last ten years or so has produced much in the way of tangible results. You certainly can't attribute the 2010 election to her, since there was a guy in the White House who had a bigger part in getting the Republican base to the polls.
But even if John Boehner doesn't inspire fiery emotions, he may represent what Democrats want voters to think about when they go to the polls next November, which is that Republicans are the party of dysfunction, obstructionism, and recklessness. Even if Boehner got pulled semi-willingly into the madness of recent events, he was still the Republican on TV most often when the whole mess was unfolding. I suppose Democrats could air ads tying a House candidate to Ted Cruz, but how many undecided voters know who Cruz is and have strong feelings about him? Boehner may be the best thing they've got.