Two things would no doubt change if Republicans win 39 additional House seats this fall and take the majority away from the Democrats and install Ohio's John Boehner as speaker. The speaker's reception office would dump Nancy Pelosi's Ghirardelli chocolates for a tin cup of colorful "Boehner golf tees." And the House smoking ban would likely expire. Smart fashion wouldn't change much: Pelosi wears designer pantsuits, while former House Majority Leader Dick Armey calls the chain-smoking Boehner "the Dean Martin of American politics. He's so cool, every man should hate him."
Boehner has served under four speakers, been booted from leadership after a coup attempt on Newt Gingrich, and staged a comeback to be the top House Republican in 2006. "I've got a pretty good handle on how I would do this job," says Boehner, who broke the model by campaigning with his own "Boehner for Speaker" brochure. "Newt [Gingrich] used to have this management saying on a wall in his office: 'Listen, learn, help, and lead.' And it really encapsulates a management strategy that I've used for many years."
California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who's drafting the GOP's latest Contract With America, says, "Losing has taught him to be a much better leader."
FreedomWorks Chairman Armey, now a Tea Party movement leader, says Boehner is perfectly suited to take the helm of a party being revived by fiscal conservatives. He recalls, for example, that Boehner was part of the 1990s "Gang of Seven" that tried to limit earmarks. "I think this movement will become more of a working support group and a cheering section for what will be the natural volitions of the new Republican majority," says Armey.
There's also hope for a bipartisanship resurgence, since Boehner has a history of teaming with lawmakers like the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. "We're not going to be able to solve the big problems in our country until members begin to work with each other again and trust each other once again," he says. "And it isn't going to happen overnight."
Of course, Democrats aren't buying it. "Few can make the case better about the dangers of turning back the clock to a Republican Congress than Republican Leader John Boehner," warns Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Ryan Rudominer.
Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.