Speaker this, Speaker that… have you seen the Speaker?
I think all of us have had enough of the Democrats’ and the establishment media’s poorly disguised glee over the inability/unwillingness of the Republican House majority to agree on a new leader. You’d probably agree, it was painful watching the roll call votes, interviews, hopeful prognostications, pontificating Democrats, frightful predictions of doom and gloom for 2024 GOP candidates and America haters of all shapes, sizes, genders, religions, sexual orientations and national origins seemingly celebrating dysfunction and bickering.
Isn’t this what “democracy” looks like? Wouldn’t the people who are always lecturing on letting the people decide and all that other nonsense be glad that the system is working even if it isn’t working? Both parties have their own set of bugaboos. Most of the squabbling that takes place on Capitol Hill is behind closed doors, after all, not right out in front for everyone to see.
Is the political system irreparably broken, or is it just the Republican Party? In an opinion piece appropriately titled “Why the GOP Can’t Unite”, Jonathan Martin wrote at Politico Magazine:
“There is no longer a cohesive Republican Party. There’s a pre-Trump GOP and a post-Trump GOP, living together uneasily. They may be roommates but they’re not married.
“Which is why it was unintentionally unironic for Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), after watching 20 Republicans oppose his candidacy for speaker, to lament what could come next in the House. ‘No one in our conference wants to see any type of coalition government with Democrats,’ Jordan told reporters after the first vote [last] Tuesday…
“Former President Donald Trump’s takeover of the GOP has accelerated the remake of Congress, where Republicans in his image have been arriving since 2018 while those anchored in the [Paul] Ryan-era party have either followed the former speaker’s path to the exits or accommodated the party’s transition. ‘This is a political-leaning conference right now, not a policy-leaning conference,’ Ryan told me. Which makes sense, he added, because ‘our party is a populist-leaning party right now, not a policy-leaning party.’”
Populist-leaning party… what does that mean? Does the word “populist” suggest that it’s popular in the Republican Party to be against illegal immigration and desire to enforce the law? If so, maybe there should be a name change in the GOP, to the populist party, headlined by Trump. The 2016 winner seized on what Newt Gingrich once called “majority issues” and built his platform around what makes the grassroots happy… What’s wrong with that? The planks fit within the Constitution’s framework, don’t they?
But Martin is correct about one thing – the Republican party is now irreparably split, apparently, between the pro-Trump majority and the slim minority of hangers-on to the old Bush/Romney/McCain way of doing things, which is summed up by the descriptive term “Managed Decline”. This new breed of Republican generally adopted Donald Trump’s combativeness, and the DC swamp class, Democrats, and establishment media won’t accept it.
They’d much prefer the good ol’ days when swamp Democrats did pretty much whatever they wanted and political scaredy-cat Republicans went along with them for fear of losing their big donor bases or cushy board positions at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. As the recent House hubbub exposed, there are still a lot of ‘em left, too, mostly on the Appropriations Committee. Hopefully some more of these ideological turncoats will be weeded out in primaries next year, but is anyone hopeful that will occur?
Beyond the hype, what’s transpiring in the House is all just family drama playing out on a grand scale. If you’ve ever been to a family reunion, chances are you’ve noted the plethora of attitudes coming together to create one heck of a potential argument waiting to happen. There are kids who do their thing and just don’t know any better, other kids who know better but like pushing buttons, teens and young adults who reject the activities or the food of the group and don’t feel compelled to cooperate, adults with old grudges, a few “let’s just get along” types, a few enforcers who aren’t shy about admonishing the naysayers, and, finally, elder statesmen of the family unit who look at what’s going on and can’t stop thinking, “Where did we all go wrong”?
This describes today’s Republican Party!
The fact is, whenever there’s a diverse (in terms of personality types) bunch of self-interested people gathered together in one place, there’s going to be disagreements and discord. The limits of the disharmony depend on who’s willing to buck the others, the number of people prone to sacrificing some of what they want to please the whole, and if there’s a central, respected leader who cracks the proverbial whip to keep the event from deteriorating into he said vs. she said.
Picture photos from the Beatles’ last months in the late sixties/1970. The hairy (by then at least) hippies were pointing fingers at each other, bringing in their own musicians to work on their songs and generally not caring what their bandmates did – or if they were even there. There’s a famous picture of legendary producer George Martin sitting on a piano bench with his head in his hands while John, Paul, George and Ringo are in the background, obviously deeply engaged in a heated discussion of some sort.
You can’t make music without harmony and a meeting of the minds as to what everyone is supposed to be doing. That’s exactly what’s happening in the Republican party today. They’re a “band” who can’t agree on who writes the songs, arranges the instruments or works the mixing apparatus.
It’s not just the House GOP caucus, either. Should Mitch McConnell fall from the scene and several of the more outspoken conservatives speak up, there could be a nasty battle for party leader there as well, though an individual vote doesn’t carry as much weight like it does in the House when a few defectors can make all the difference. How else do you think McConnell’s been able to hang on for so long?
I know, I know, there have to be some folks who claim that grown-ups don’t act this way, but such pontificators clearly didn’t pay attention to the presidential primary races of the past. Except for Trump in 2020 (and arguably not even then), there have been rhetorical pitched battles each time -- the proverbial war for the “soul” of the party between the stodgy old guard GOP establishment and conservatives who just want limited government, fierce protection of rights (including gun rights and the right to life) and a closer adaptation of what the Founders intended America to be.
Republicans, unlike Democrats, tend not to coalesce around one leader until the contest’s been fully drawn out. And then, in Donald Trump’s case, you’ve got GOP swamp lizards sufficiently emboldened to snipe from afar, self-assured that no punishment will come their way because the fat cat big money interests will have their backs. Place Paul Ryan’s face here.
In the course of the current Speakership scrum, many an observer has pointed out that most if not all of the rancor wouldn’t have happened if the party majority were larger. And that’s true. The establishment, represented by former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, would’ve won a quiet but clear victory and the Republican lower chamber would today be going about its business making deals with Democrats to perpetuate the status quo, and no one would be the wiser. Because that’s the way it's always been.
Instead, we had several embarrassing public cat fights over this and that, the “moderates” enraged because a small group of (mostly) conservatives upset the apple cart by calling McCarthy’s bluff – and Democrats went along with it, just for fun. It’s not like Democrats suddenly figured that McCarthy was a danger to them; no, it was all due to political considerations and what liberals figured they’d gain by the country – and world – watching Republicans (some of them) yell at each other and act badly.
Sorry to concede, it looks as though Democrats succeeded in their mission of reputational destruction. The Republican “family” overturned the big round table in the center of the room. Now the food is spoiled, half the people are crying and the rest declare it’s time to leave.
Whenever there’s a fracture in a political party, my usual approach is to say, “This too shall pass”, which was how I addressed the original Speaker dust-up in January. We should’ve known then that McCarthy was going to be, at best, a weak Speaker whose tenuous hold on the position would last as long as he kept strict adherence to his word and prevented the weakest members of his caucus – the so-called “moderates” from dictating the direction of the body to everyone else’s chagrin.
McCarthy couldn’t – or didn’t -- do it. Matt Gaetz made the motion to vacate, Democrats recognized a golden opportunity to sabotage the Republican “family gathering” and the rest is history. One can only hope that cooler and more reasonable voices govern the fracas and something positive emerges from this, for the sake of liberty-loving conservatives – and the nation.
Republicans need to become more like Democrats, whose only cause is “victory”. As Speaker, Nancy Pelosi wouldn’t tolerate dissention. Did this make her a de facto dictator? Yes. And the Speaker’s decisions reflected on the entire caucus, which didn’t always help at election time. But when there’s nothing ventured, there’s nothing gained.
In politics, not everyone gets everything they want. But the individuals have more power when they join with other, similar-minded folks to “win” as much as practicable. That’s the purpose for parties in the first place and the reason why George Washington was so against the “evils of faction”.
We’re stuck with it. Who wants to win?
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