Calm down: McCarthy and the GOP have only themselves to blame for their humiliation

The tight bookends framed House Republicans’ first week of majority control/no control in a new Congress. Among them is a history of party radicalism and dysfunction: past, present and, almost certainly, future.

Fittingly, the week ends on the second birthday of January. 6, 2021, pro-Trump attack on the Capitol. It is a reminder that in one of the first acts of the House Republicans of the previous Congress, two-thirds of them, two-thirds! – voted within hours of the failed coup to do what the rioters wanted: void the electoral votes for President-elect Biden. Most of these Republicans remain in power, bolstered by newly elected election denialists. Many of them, they now suggest, allegedly conspired with the defeated Donald Trump to keep him in power, even by force (“Marshall Law!”).

Biden had planned to celebrate in January. 6th anniversary at the White House awarding the Presidential Citizens Medal to a dozen state officials, poll workers and police who, unlike Trump’s Republicans, defended the Capitol and democracy. House Republicans do not plan to observe the date; they promise instead to investigate the nation’s research investigators. 6 betrayal

Dotted style portrait illustration by Jackie Calmes

Opinion columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. He has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.

How did this week start? Republicans humiliatingly made history from the blocks, as the first House majority in a century not to elect a speaker in a single roll call. Vote after vote, day after day, they exposed their divisions and all but confirmed their insanity: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Republican “leader” Kevin McCarthy, who has dreamed of becoming speaker since arriving in Washington from Bakersfield 16 years ago, sat with a playful smile through his nationally televised embarrassment, until all while his far-right enemies mocked him for just speaking into a microphone. feet away

Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, seemingly unfazed by her near-rejection in the midterm elections, pointed to Trump’s calls to her and other Never-Kevin fanatics to “put it down” and support “My Kevin “. She defiantly suggested that Trump call McCarthy and tell him he withdraw

So much for the power of Trump’s endorsement, which McCarthy sold his soul to obtain. After Trump posted “VOTE FOR KEVIN” on his social media, McCarthy continued to lose by nearly identical counts.

As insignificant as it turned out, Trump’s attempt to put his thumb on the speaker’s ladder, and McCarthy’s welcome to his aid, broke another political norm. Historically, neither current nor former presidents have intervened in congressional leadership elections—nor have lawmakers asked for their help—out of deference to Congress’s constitutional status as an independent branch of government and a check on the executive branch. , not a parliamentary member.

One thing is almost certain after this week’s absurd uncertainty: Dysfunction will be a hallmark of the Republican-controlled House going forward. The same narrow majority that allowed the anti-McCarthyites to hold the institution hostage this week portends more cabals poised to repeatedly block congressional action, especially on spending and debt-limit measures essential to keeping the government open and stable the largest economy in the world.

Along with their small majority, the radicalism of today’s Republicans poses problems for the government.

His humiliation this week is the result of a nihilism that party leaders have sown for more than a generation, dating from Newt Gingrich’s “revolution” era in the mid-1990s through the from the Tea Party to Trump’s takeover. When Republicans and their right-wing media allies feed voters anti-establishment, anti-compromise red meat, they get a base that is hooked on things.

And yet, once the Republicans gain power in Washington, by definition the revolutionaries become the establishment and must compromise in order to govern. But the radicalized base doesn’t buy it, and the new powerful are eventually pushed out.

For a quarter of a century, we’ve seen a succession of Republicans rise only to be brought down by pressure from the right: former Speakers Gingrich, John A. Boehner, and Paul D. Ryan; Former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. And now McCarthy, who even if he prevails this week has ceded so much power to his antagonists that he will likely be doomed to a short term as speaker.

As a former Gingrich revolutionary once told me, after leaving Congress exasperated with members of his increasingly radical party, “They don’t give a damn about governing.”

Gingrich this week called McCarthy’s enemies “20 deranged disruptors.” He wondered, “Have they answered—or even thought about—the question, ‘And then what?’ “(Republican leaders, once tormented by a young, disruptive Gingrich, must have been rolling in their graves.)

For a radicalized Republican base that has been a generation in the making, and for its anti-establishment foot soldiers in Congress, it’s all struggle, all the time. And so it was that the new Republican majority in the Chamber failed for days to carry out its first, essential task of government: electing a speaker.

One long roll call after another, the Clerk of the House read the words once so unknown at the opening of a Congress: “No speaker elected.” Even the Chaplain of the House seemed to have had enough; Opening a session, he prayed, “Deliver us from intransigence and impudence.”

Amen? Don’t count on it.

For the next two years, we will all be held captive by the intransigence that McCarthy helped fuel.


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