The turmoil of House Republicans, divided by factions and feuds, shows a party unable to govern at a time when America’s commitments are vitally needed abroad while at home, another government shutdown looms in just five weeks.
While Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and arch-rival Benny Gantz have formed a wartime unity government, as did the United States when Franklin Roosevelt invited Republican luminaries to take top posts, Republicans in the “peoples House” cannot even pick a Speaker from their own ranks.
They are the confirmation of an axiom made famous by Sam Rayburn and LBJ: “Any fool can kick a barn down. But it takes a real carpenter to build one.”
A few ultra MAGA representatives successfully deposed House Speaker Kevin McCarthy for daring to agree on a continuing resolution that kept the federal government going for less than two months. The caucus then failed to support Representative Steve Scalise as his successor, even though the Louisiana Republican once described himself as “David Duke without the baggage.”) (Duke is a former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.)
The Trump worshippers’ candidate is Representative Jim Jordan, the screechy chair of a committee investigating impeachment of President Biden. “The people want Jim Jordan,” messaged deposed Fox Business host Lou Dobbs. Senator Ted Cruz, R‑Texas, opined: “My philosophy in political endorsements is to support the strongest conservative who can win. That is Jim Jordan.”
As stalwart conservative Liz Cheney (once a member of House Republican leadership) pointed out, however: “Jim Jordan was involved in Trump’s conspiracy to steal the election and seize power. He urged Pence to refuse to count lawful electoral votes… They’ll lose the House majority and deserve to.”
Jordan, a Freedom Caucus founder and fixture on right-wing media, was nominated for Speaker by the House Republican Caucus late on Friday afternoon.
Progressives might cheer the prospect, except that they are a key component in keeping the country together, and the government functional, while the Republican Party comes apart. With the danger of another Trump candidacy looming, we must focus at least some of the country’s attention on jobs being created and goals achieved thanks to the infrastructure package, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. Heck, the Northwest has just been picked as one of seven nationwide hubs for clean hydrogen.
Still, the Republicans are a spectacle. The monolithic right-wing media is even fraying. Ex-House Speaker Newt Gingrich has demanded on FNC that Representative Matt Gaetz (who kicked the barn down and instigated McCarthy’s removal), be thrown out of the Republican Caucus.
Talk show host Mark Levin depicts Gaetz as a traitor “working with the Marxists in the Democratic Party.” Meantime, FNC host Laura Ingraham hosted Gaetz the night of McCarthy’s ouster and cheered him on with encouraging comments such as “Gaetz was brilliant in taking out McCarthy. Genius!”
The Republican implosion is rooted in several factors. The first is right wing media, starting with Rush Limbaugh in the early Clinton years, followed by Fox News in the late 1990s and a proliferation of mini-Limbaughs.
What followed was a divergence that continues to this day. When handed majorities, some party establishment conservatives have wanted to govern, albeit by cutting social and environmental programs to the bone and giving tax breaks to the rich. (They’ve succeeded on the latter count.)
To achieve ratings, however, the talk show host need to keep listeners/viewers mad, and tuned in. Hence, they come down hard on any effort to work out society’s compromises, even when it is to their advantage. Right-wing media killed a 2007 immigration reform package that passed the Senate by a 68–30 vote.
The Republican leadership used to use money as a cudgel in enforcing obedience. It could be withheld as punishment. Control the money and you could control the members, as demonstrated by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.
The rise of right-wing media, and 24⁄7 news cycles, have allowed Congress’ empty drums to bang loudly. The Internet has helped. Fundraising letters used to require volunteers. Staff would be pressed into fundraising parties over stale pizza. Nowadays, all you have to do is push a finger and send out an email.
Making noise has become a key to campaign bucks. Look at the millions raised by conspiracy promoter Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia, or the bankrolling of failed fascist House hopeful Joe Kent (who’s running again) in this state.
During debate over McCarthy’s ouster, colleagues bitterly complained that Gaetz and Representative Nancy Mace, R‑South Carolina, were sending out a blizzard of fundraising appeals quoting their rhetoric on the House floor.
The Republican base has also been radicalized. They’ve raged at social change, which conservative politics has not stopped. The Equal Rights Amendment was blocked, but there are now twenty-three female senators and three female justices on the Supreme Court. Marriage equality has become the law of the land, and with overwhelming support from millennials and Generation Z.
If you want to witness the anger, buy a ticket to the Snohomish County Republicans’ Lincoln Day Dinner or watch the speakers being brought in to address King County Republicans. Covering the 2012 race for Governor, I repeatedly watched Republican Attorney General Rob McKenna be forced to serve as warmup speaker while a radio talk show host was the headliner.
Of course, Trump fans the flames of this right-wing radicalism, with his conspiracy charges and his coup attempt, as well as rhetoric that is increasingly violent. He hauls in millions, even using fundraising blasts to deliver threats to those who don’t pony up.
Biden’s defeated predecessor has talked about charging MSNBC with “treason,” likewise just retired Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley. At his civil trial for business fraud, he has called New York Attorney General Letitia James a “political animal,” Judge Arthur Engoron a “rogue,” and slandered the judge’s law clerk by falsely describing her as Senator Chuck Schumer’s “girlfriend.”
Kevin McCarthy tried ceaseless pandering, starting with his trip to Mar-a-Lago days after the January 6th, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Militant extremists were given seats on the House Rules Committee. Jim Jordan was given an impeachment platform. Democratic Representative Adam Schiff was thrown off the House Intelligence Committee.
All to no avail.
The spectacle in Washington, D.C., should not turn off reasonable people to politics. Quite the contrary. They should engage and reengage. Attempts to hijack the country have been turned back before by decent people, witness the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s and McCarthyism in the 1950s.
We have a Republic to preserve.