Over the past few weeks, we’ve been treated to a circus in the House of Representatives, which, as the saying goes, is an insult to the circus. The circus, of course, is a lot better organized than the Republican caucus. But what Speaker Roulette has revealed is the numerous divisions in the GOP. As the events unfolded, a significant split appeared between the MAGA faction and the traditionalists. I don’t call them moderates, because there is no such animal as a moderate in today’s GOP. But several of the older, more senior members of the caucus refused to support legislative arsonist Jim Jordan. This split may have been more personal than ideological, however, since the traditionalists all later fell in line behind election denier and extremist Mike Johnson, who, from all reports, is just a kinder, gentler version of Jordan.
For a while it appeared that the traditionalists might just accept the Democrats’ offer to put a more moderate and reasonable Speaker in place who would allow bipartisan legislation to reach the floor. But that was apparently a bridge too far for even the old guard. So, given who is in control of the party at this point, I fully expect the House Republicans to make impossible demands, pass message bills that have no chance of getting through the Senate or a presidential veto, and shut down the government.
One thing is certain, however, and that is the fact that the Republican Party is not interested in governing. They are genetically wired to hate the very government they seek to “lead.” They are interested in power only, not in any good they might accomplish with that power. Consequently, the GOP is much more adept at being the minority party, where they don’t actually have to lead or deal with complex issues. Asking them to compromise and pass legislation that, while imperfect, would actually benefit the majority of America is too much.
Most Republicans in Congress are more interested in playing to the base and getting their faces on Fox News than in doing their job. And what is that job? Compromise. That is the nature of our constitutional republic. America does not have a parliamentary system, in which the team that wins the most seats gets to also pick the governing executive and implement their policies unimpeded. Our Founders instead established a government that, by design, requires the parties to work together to a degree, especially when power is divided as it is now, with one party controlling the White House and the Senate and the other party controlling the House.
Kevin McCarthy lost his gavel, ironically, because he understood this. He avoided a default on the debt and avoided a government shutdown because he understood that he couldn’t just make one-sided demands and expect both the Senate and President Biden to cave. The Democrats and McCarthy both knew that if there was a government shutdown, most Americans would rightly blame the Republicans. But there is a small (or maybe large) contingent of Republicans in the House who don’t understand our government. Compromise is not in their vocabulary. So they forced McCarthy out. Of course they tried to blame it on the Democrats because none of them voted to save McCarthy, but McCarthy had given them no reason to support him.
And this was McCarthy’s main weakness. Nobody could trust him. After January 6, 2001, for instance, McCarthy correctly blamed Trump for the insurrection. But then he reversed himself, crawled to Mar-a-Lago, and kissed Trump’s ring. This is symbolic of his entire speakership. Once the GOP gained the majority in the House, it took 15 votes before McCarthy finally made enough concessions to the extremists in his party that they would allow him to squeak into the Speaker’s office. But he broke his promises to them when he made two deals with the Democrats to keep the government running. Then, trying to make the extremists happy, he went back on much of what he had promised Biden and the Democrats, including allowing the “Freedom” Caucus to open impeachment hearings on Biden without any substantial evidence. So, McCarthy is not a figure to pity. He deserved what he got.
And so did the Republican Party. The circus that followed demonstrated to all America just how broken the GOP is and just how unfit Republicans are to hold any sort of power. To their credit, the traditionalists did not hand the Speaker’s gavel to Jim Jordan, one of the most corrupt politicians we’ve seen in ages. But they also didn’t have enough support to make anyone Speaker who was not an extremist and election denier. So we now have Mike Johnson, and I really have few doubts about what we are about to endure. If he tries to keep the government from shutting down, which he can’t do without compromising and without Democratic votes, he will go the way of McCarthy. But if he does shut the government down by making impossible demands, the GOP will get most of the blame for the significant damage they will inflict on individual Americans and on the government. He’s really in an impossible position. So, good luck, Mike.
What the Republican Party needs to do is figure out what it really is. Right now, it has no clue. Mitt Romney has expressed a few opinions in his new biography. According to his biographer, McKay Coppins, Romney told him that “a very large portion of my party really doesn’t believe in the Constitution.” This should come as no surprise, since a majority of the party still believes Trump won the last election and does not think he has committed any crimes. The Republican Party, by and large, is so addicted to disinformation, conspiracy theories, and corruption that they have no use for the Constitution.
What are we to make of a party consisting largely of white evangelical christians (yes, I lowercased that intentionally) who, when polled, think that a serial adulterer, confessed sexual predator, business fraud, insurrectionist, and amoral narcissist is a religious man? What sort of people enjoy listening for hours to a rambling, intellectual pygmy who alternates between bragging about himself and telling lies about pretty much everyone not named Trump? Trump’s popularity among Latter-day Saints is thankfully lower than it is among Evangelicals, but it is still way too high, especially among LDS legislators, who had the gall to censure Mitt Romney for voting his conscience, a concept they are apparently unacquainted with.
I agree with President Biden that there are a good many Republicans who do not agree with Trump and his MAGA fanatics. But among those who have any government power, who beyond Mitt Romney has the courage to speak up and oppose him? Where is that sort of courage? I just don’t see it. And sadly, I don’t see it among the other four members of Utah’s congressional delegation. All three remaining House members (Chris Stewart’s seat is empty until the special election next month) voted for Jim Jordan to be Speaker, for heaven’s sake. And Mike Lee is lost in space.
So, what will become of the GOP? I can only hope that Trump leads the party off the cliff in 2024, losing not only the presidency but both houses of Congress. If so, this may be the only way for the GOP to break free from Trumpism. But the Republican Party’s problems were not started by Trump. They have been off track for 40 years. Trump just took them where they were already heading but got them there faster. So, will a massive loss in 2024 cause introspection and a change of course? I’m sorry, but I really can’t imagine this happening. I’m afraid the only redemption for conservatives is to start a new party and leave the rotting carcass of the GOP to the MAGAts.