It’s hard to find a better microcosm for today’s Republican Party than the self-inflicted debacle that America witnessed this week.
The GOP holds a narrow majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, and yet the party has botched in the worst way the selection of a House speaker. Instead of unifying behind California Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Republicans displayed on national television the toxic fractiousness that has become their party’s most glaring — and burdensome — trait.
If nothing else, it amounted to entertaining, bizarre theater.
Usually a perfunctory legislative exercise, the selection of House speaker endured for hours Tuesday, plodding through three ballots without a clear winner and ignominiously marking the first time in a century that the process went past a first ballot.
Though Democrats weren’t expecting any sort of miracle win for their choice, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, they beamed as Jeffries topped the leader board on all roll calls Tuesday — not enough to win, but enough to best McCarthy on all three ballots. Through it all, grandchildren of lawmakers expecting to be sworn in — some of them babies and toddlers — impatiently fidgeted as the nominal grown-ups tried in vain to make up their minds.
As of Wednesday afternoon, lawmakers still had a House with no speaker. Three more roll calls on Wednesday gave McCarthy three more demeaning defeats. It was more of the same Thursday, with him losing on a 10th speaker ballot. Regardless of when the selection is made, the damage to the GOP has been done. McCarthy has, in essence, been held hostage by scorched-earth ideologues who seem to want to air grudges against party leadership as much as they insist on making egregious demands that don’t belong in any election of a speaker.
The failure to elect a speaker is the most glaring indicator yet of the chasm within the Republican Party between far-right extremists and more moderate, establishment members. That chasm cost Republicans the opportunity for a much more decisive victory in the midterms, when soaring inflation and President Joe Biden’s dismal approval ratings made Democrats keenly vulnerable.
Instead, Democrats retained control of the U.S. Senate, a bevy of former President Donald Trump’s election denier candidates lost, and Republicans could only muster a slim edge over Democrats in the House.
What’s wrong with the Republican Party was on full display in the House chamber this week. By yielding so much clout to the party’s far-right wing, establishment Republicans put themselves in the unenviable position of having to win over a group of Trump-allied holdouts who seized their chance to wrest as many concessions from the McCarthy camp as possible — and in the process rub the California Republican’s face in the dirt.
The nightmare for the GOP got so bad that even Trump felt like he had to come to McCarthy’s rescue Wednesday, posting on his Truth Social platform that Republicans should back McCarthy because he “will do a good job, and maybe even a GREAT JOB.”
With friends like that ...
If GOP leaders think it can’t get worse, they should think again. As long as they continue to spruce up a soapbox for the party’s far-right conspiracy theorists and election deniers, they’re going to endure more debasing episodes like the one that unfolded in the House this week.
Republicans cast the mold for this fiasco in myriad ways, branding insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, as simply exercising “legitimate political discourse,” denouncing the Justice Department’s lawful and necessary investigation into the presence of classified documents at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and allowing Trump’s meddling in the midterms that led to disastrous results for the GOP, to name a few.
It’s not just the Republican Party that’s on the losing end of all this. Failure to elect a speaker has effectively paralyzed the House. Legislation has ground to a halt. The swearing-in of new members remains stalled. In short, dysfunction and petty politicking within the GOP is derailing the party’s own agenda, and keeping real, important work in Congress from getting done.
Republicans couldn’t have imagined a worse start to the 118th Congress. Neither could hardworking Americans, many of whom voted for GOP candidates. Those loyal Republican voters deserve to see a party that can organize itself as a functioning entity. It is unconscionable that the GOP would let them down in such short order.
Will the GOP finally realize what’s at stake if they continue to wallow in such conspicuous disunity? The events of this week suggest they’re light years from that realization. For the sake of this nation, we hope otherwise.