John Boehner Likely to Stay Neutral in GOP Presidential Race

Posted April 4, 2012 at 11:01pm

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney inched his way closer to the GOP presidential nomination this week with help from top Congressional endorsements, and though Speaker John Boehner has not shown his hand publicly, the Ohio Republican is thought to be silently cheering Romney from the sidelines.

Boehner has declined to endorse in the contest, despite other GOP leaders’ active campaigning on behalf of the frontrunner. Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) helped Romney round up his home-state delegates, and Romney swept Tuesday’s Wisconsin primary with the state’s favorite conservative son, Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, on the trail.

Team Romney also includes Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), several committee chairmen and others in Boehner’s inner circle, such as Reps. Bill Shuster (Pa.), Mike Simpson (Idaho), Michael Turner (Ohio) and Steven LaTourette (Ohio).

And though Romney’s rout of Wisconsin, Maryland and the District of Columbia on Tuesday makes it difficult to foresee Romney not securing the nomination, ex-Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.), former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) have promised to fight until the convention.

If Boehner endorsed now, it could make for an awkward August gathering in Tampa.

“By tradition, Boehner will serve as the chairman of the Republican National Convention,” Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said. “He also — as he often points out — has a big job to do here in the House, and that’s what he’s focused on.”

Getting involved when there are torn loyalties in the House could cause more problems than it would solve. That’s not to mention that Romney already won Boehner’s home state of Ohio, where the Speaker would likely have the most influence.

“I think Boehner honestly has been around so long he likes to let these things play out,” a GOP operative said. “He probably feels there’s no upside” in endorsing.

Although Boehner has largely remained quiet about the presidential primary, he gave a rare glimpse into his feelings on the candidates in an interview on March 28 for NBC’s “Today” show.

When asked by host Matt Lauer what qualifies Santorum to be president, Boehner dodged the question. When asked the same of Romney, Boehner took a very different tack.

“I think his business background is probably his strongest suit,” Boehner answered. “He’s a very successful businessman, understands how our economy works, and in a time when the American people are asking, ‘Where are the jobs?’, I think that it might be the strongest point that he brings.”

Boehner is thought to have been in Romney’s corner going back to the 2008 primary, and sources said there’s no change in this cycle.

Still, Boehner stayed out of the race then as well, said former Rep. Jim McCrery (La.), who is close to Boehner and led Romney’s House outreach for the last presidential cycle.

“Boehner has enough to say grace over as it is,” McCrery said in an interview. “He probably feels like he ought to stay neutral so he can best do his job as Speaker.”

Boehner and Romney have also shared some top staffers.

Kevin Madden left a job as Boehner’s press secretary in 2006 to join Romney’s 2008 campaign. Boehner’s policy director, Brett Loper, meanwhile, helped his then-boss, McCrery, in his work on behalf of Romney in the 2008 campaign.