Don’t let the headline fool you: the contempt John Boehner and Ted Cruz have for each other appears to be anything but manufactured. In fact, contempt seems to be all that the two Republican politicos have for one another. And yet, it’s hard to see their most recent spat — which comes nearly six years after Boehner’s retirement — as anything but performative kabuki theater.
Boehner’s much-anticipated memoir, On the House, has served as the catalyst for the revival of this old feud — his camp has spent months dropping hints that the book would be harshly critical of the Texas senator. More than anything else, Boehner’s inclusion of what Axios‘s Jonathan Swan called “random violent attacks” such as, “Oh, and Ted Cruz, go f*** yourself” in the audiobook version has ginned up interest in On the House.
While Boehner drew first blood, Cruz has proven ready, willing, and eager to engage, telling the Daily Caller that “I think he [Boehner] was probably recording at nine or ten in the morning so obviously he had too much wine that day already.” Better yet, Cruz was able to use Boehner’s broadsides to burnish his anti-establishment credentials, tweeting: “The Swamp is unhappy. I wear with pride his drunken, bloviated scorn.”
This is a perfect exemplar of the all-too-common win-win-lose imbroglio, a classic of our politics. For the individuals in this equation, the calculation is simple: Boehner gets to sell more books and parade around the morning shows as the newest in a long line of “good ‘ole Republicans” who detest the new, uncouth kind. Cruz, meanwhile, gets to remind GOP primary voters just how hard he fought the establishment and to continue to atone for his crime of being an early critic of Donald Trump.
For the more passive losing actor, conservative voters, it’s another reminder that many high-profile Republican officeholders — establishment and insurgent — are far less worried about pursuing policy outcomes than they are brand-building and ladder-climbing. If Boehner and Cruz were fighting over the soul of the party or major philosophical differences, perhaps their little spat would be more tolerable. But since it’s small differences and ambition animating this pseudo-event, it may be long past time we adopted both men’s impression of the other.