Two weeks out from an election in which Republicans are poised to make major gains, top social conservatives are voicing decidedly tepid support for House Minority Leader John Boehner, who stands ready to take the Speaker’s gavel if Republicans take the House in November.
“On the leadership question, I’m gonna take a pass on that,” said Gary Bauer, head of American Values. “I think Leader Boehner has done a good job in many areas. But I’m sure if there’s a new majority there’s likely to be a competition for all those leadership slots and I think for now I’ll just punt on that one.”
Asked if Boehner is the best person to lead the House, Penny Nance, CEO of Concerned Women for America, said, “I don’t think I get to make that decision. I believe John Boehner is one whom is pro-life. And I have a good relationship with John Boehner.”
“I have no reason to believe he isn’t up to the task, at this point,” Nance said.
Struggling for relevance amidst the rise of Tea Party activists energized by spending, small government and economic issues, social conservatives had to fight Boehner to get language promoting traditional marriage into the GOP’s “Pledge to America.”
Meanwhile, a series of prominent Republicans, from former Vice President Dick Cheney to GOP superlawyer Ted Olson to former RNC Chair Ken Mehlman, have loudly and proudly backed gay rights.
Social conservatives turn to House Republican Conference Chairman Rep. Mike Pence as their chief ally in leadership.
Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, said he’s “comfortable” with the Republican leadership in the House in spite of Boehner because Pence and Republican Whip Eric Cantor represent social conservatives in deliberations.
“I think [Boehner is] listening and obviously you have to look at the leadership as a team, and when you look at the overall leadership in the House, I think it is truly reflective of the conservative movement. I’m comfortable with the entire leadership,” Perkins said.
“I think Mike Pence, Eric Cantor are two that are very reliable and understand the dynamics of the conservative movement and understand the social conservative movement and how their issues are intertwined with the other elements of conservatives,” Perkins said.
When Boehner sought to purge the “Pledge” of anti-gay marriage language, it was Pence who intervened on behalf of social conservatives.
“There was a feeling by a lot of people on the Hill that since this wasn’t a platform…that the list needed to stay basically on economic items because that was what was driving the election,” Bauer said. “Thankfully, people like Congressman Mike Pence fought against that idea.”
As Bauer alluded in saying he expects there to be a competition for leadership, there are whispers of a challenge to Boehner.
But most social conservatives appear resigned to Boehner hoisting the Speaker’s gavel.
“Boehner is the person who’s gonna lead the House — anybody that I will suggest will be voting for Boehner,” said Tom Minnery, a spokesman for Focus on the Family.
“They have these historic gains, I don’t see the rank-and-file there in the House rejecting his leadership on it,” said Perkins.
“I think John Boehner will be fine,” said Jim Gilmore, President and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.