Boehner at Mackinac: GOP is 'taking a nap somewhere'

Former House Speaker John Boehner

Mackinac Island — The Republican former Speaker of the House, John Boehner, suggested that President Donald Trump has eclipsed the GOP, saying there is no Republican Party now — "there's a Trump party." 

"The Republican party is kinda taking a nap somewhere," Boehner said Thursday in remarks at the Mackinac Policy Conference. 

Boehner, who stepped down as speaker in 2015, said Trump is among the "most unusual" people to be elected as U.S. president.

"But if you peel away the noise and the tweets and all that — which is virtually impossible to do — from a Republican standpoint, the things he’s doing by and large are really good things."

Boehner included deregulation and foreign policy in that category, saying Trump has been on North Korea like "white on rice for 15 months."

He rejected the idea that Trump is trying to start a trade war, saying he's instead driving people to the negotiating table. "Trump wants to cut a deal," Boehner said. 

Devin Scillian of WDIV-TV (Channel 4), who interviewed Boehner on stage after his remarks, brought him a Bloody Mary with a straw to enjoy during their morning Q&A session.

Boehner dismissed Scillian's concerns about the potential "breakdown of trust" in the presidency as a result of Trump's many false or misleading claims as president — 3,000 and counting, according to the Washington Post's Fact Checker

"And the point is?" Boehner interjected. "He's president, and you're not." 

He offered the contrast of his own career, explaining how after he announced his retirement as speaker, lawmakers regularly thanked him for "always being honest" with them. 

"My whole career was pretty straightforward. I wanted to be me," Boehner said. "I was going to tell people the truth, even when it was difficult. Because at the end of the day, the truth is always going to show up."

Boehner added: "The president's got a different style. But he is the president."

Republicans thought "the world was coming to an end" when President Barack Obama was elected, just like every Democrat — "and half the Republicans" — thought it would end with Trump's election in 2016, Boehner said. 

"We're going to live through this, too," he said. "Our society is stronger than whoever is occupying the White House. Our economy is the most resilient economy in the world because Americans are the most resilient people in the world." 

Michigan is an example of that resiliency, Boehner later added, saying most states haven't endured what Michigan has since the 1970s. 

He doesn't miss Congress, though he still visits Washington about once a month. 

"Who would miss this? It's too divided. The country's too divided. The left and right are just gnawing at each other," he said. 

"People aren't very happy. That's why you see this record number of retirements," Boehner added, referring to lawmakers. "It's just not fun." 

Boehner said the 2016 presidential election turned out the way it did because "normal" Republicans and Democrats typically don't show up and vote in presidential primaries. As a result, candidates emerge from the fringes or "near fringes." 

"The way to solve this is for average Democrats and average Republicans to show up in a primary and elect people more like themselves," Boehner said to applause. 

Trump was a supporter of Boehner's before his election — they played golf together, and Trump called to "pat me on the back, cheer me up" when he had a rough week as speaker. 

"But president? Really? I never really quite saw this," Boehner admitted to laughter. "

Trump also never saw his election to the White House coming, Boehner said, but elections are won based on who turns out, and not based on what the polls say. 

"And Donald Trump promised Melania that he would not win. She didn't have to worry about ever living in the White House," Boehner said. 

"That's probably why she doesn't look real happy every day. Well — maybe one reason."