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When Republicans Get Angry: Christie vs. Boehner

By Margaret Carlson
January 03, 2013 12:00 PM EST

Republicans, we know, are angry. But there are different kinds of anger: It can be productive, clarifying and aimed cleanly at a deserving target. Or it can be, well, none of those things.

The first was on display yesterday from Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. The second was exhibited by  House Speaker John Boehner.

Let's take Boehner's first: According to Politico, last Friday Boehner let Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have it. Reid had accused Boehner of "running a ‘dictatorship’ in the House and caring more about holding onto his gavel than striking a deal" to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. When Boehner ran into Reid steps from the Oval Office, he said "Go f--- yourself."  Boehner later bragged about the incident to fellow Republicans.

This wasn't righteous anger so much as pique. Boehner is really mad at himself for being led by the nose by his most conservative members, who operate under the delusion they represent the entire country rather than their tiny gerrymandered districts. It’s awful to be afraid of those you should be leading.

Anger -- any real feeling, actually -- is risky for a politician. but Christie abided by the unwritten rules of the road. He was angry on behalf of others about the shelving of bills that would bring some $60 billion in disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy’s victims, venting for people who’ve got no voice, ordinary folks beaten down by tragedy and homeless to boot.

He avoided the general in favor of the specific: “I called the speaker four times last night after 11:20 [the time the vote on the fiscal cliff ended] and he didn’t take my calls.” He named names: “There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims," he said. "The House majority and their speaker, John Boehner.”

He was vivid. What was happening was “disgraceful” as lawmakers “failed their most basic trust” to care for others in need. Instead, “our people were played last night as a pawn” by a speaker more interested in “palace intrigue.”

He followed another important rule and shouldered some blame. “Last night my party was responsible for this.” Then he tapped into the universal way to land a blow, the parental “shame on you”: We respond to disaster, he said, not as partisans but as “Americans, or at least we did until last night.”

Christie doesn’t always get it right. When he said “none of your business” in 2011 to a voter question about where his children went to school, it was Boehner-type pique. In contrast, when he told his fellow New Jerseyans to “get the hell off the beach” before Hurricane Irene in 2011, he could have been rehearsing for yesterday.

Christie sidestepped the personal. He didn’t accuse his party of hating the Acela corridor or of punishing him because he hugged President Barack Obama the week before Election Day, although he could have -- both are true. Will he always be so restrained? Stay tuned.

(Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow her on Twitter.)

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