It’s dumpster fire time as the House GOP’s dysfunction is on full display during a time of grave danger. “I look at the world and all the threats that are out there,” Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned recently. “And what kind of message are we sending to our adversaries when we can’t govern? While we’re dysfunctional?”
That was on CNN’s State of The Union, last Sunday, Oct. 8. Since then, things have only deteriorated. As Punchbowl News’s Jake Sherman—who has been closely covering the internal machinations of the GOP caucus—summed up the situation on Thursday: “The House Republican Conference is a mess… They are no closer to picking a speaker. They are a month away from a [government] shutdown. Israel is asking for aid, which needs to pass in the next few weeks. They are completely lost. And [they] have no idea how they will get out.”
Sherman’s assessment came just a few hours before Majority Leader Steve Scalise, who just one day earlier had narrowly won the House GOP’s nomination for Speaker, dropped out of the race. On Friday afternoon, Rep. Jim Jordan became the second Republican nominated in one week to be House speaker, amassing a reported 124 votes to 7-term Georgia Rep. Austin Scott’s 81 votes. But this does not mean an end to the madness is in sight.
For the uninitiated, the problem is simple: Due to a razor-thin House majority (and a refusal to seek support from Democrats), since former Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s ouster, no Republican has been able to garner the 217 votes to become Speaker.
But even if the GOP had a larger majority, it still might not paper over the deeper divides.
There were sixteen Republicans who stated they would not support Scalise even after he won the nomination, and two more who would not commit to supporting him.
Interestingly, Jordan (whom Scalise defeated for the nomination) and Rep. Matt Gaetz (who engineered McCarthy’s ouster, thus creating this whole mess to begin with) were not among the holdouts.
What this tells me is that there are not just a couple of “rotten apples” to blame for spoiling the bunch.
It is at least theoretically possible that Jordan will get to 217. But the danger is that the GOP caucus is like a Rubik’s cube. If you do what you have to do to fix one side, you are likely to mess up your previous work on the opposite side.
This explains the mathematical conundrum, but it does not address the deeper systemic and cultural rot causing this problem; that could be best described by author C.S. Lewis: “We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment.”
By Lewis’s definition, today’s political environment, typified by Donald Trump’s GOP, is tantamount to Hades.
Consider Rep. Nancy Mace, an attention-starved pol who most recently called even more attention to herself by wearing a scarlet letter T-shirt to a closed-door conference meeting. One imagines her top priority is garnering attention, not doing the people’s work.
But she’s far from the only Republican whose primary focus seems to be on garnering attention. As Patrick Swayze put it in the movie Road House, “[W]e’ve got entirely too many troublemakers here.” (Lookin’ at you, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Lauren Boebert.)
That’s not to diminish the legitimate philosophical differences dividing the GOP’s House caucus. But regardless of the motives, once upon a time, this behavior would have been immediately squelched.
Without Twitter, the internet, or Fox News, rank-in-file members had little opportunity to build fame or amass a war chest.
Party bosses controlled money (both campaign dollars and “pork” for your district, plum committee assignments, etc.), and they weren’t above using the carrot or the stick. While not quite literal, the term “whipping” votes was once a pretty apt description for the arm twisting and cajoling that took place.
This system was far from perfect, but it greased the skids and allowed the adults to enforce some standards of conduct. Those days are long gone.
Simply put, this moment is telling. The Republican Party’s inability to elect a Speaker of the House is a microcosm of larger cultural decadence and degeneration that are disproportionately afflicting the GOP.
Too many of today’s politicians put themselves ahead of our institutions—and our country. Too many are, as C.S. Lewis might say, perpetually concerned about their own “advancement” and “resentment.”
Resolving these deep-seated problems will be a generational project. Obviously, we can’t wait that long for a Speaker of the House. At some point, this stalemate will have to end. Someone will have to emerge as leader of this hellish mess.
Until then, they can do something to signal to us that they are serious: Refuse to leave town for weekends or vacations until a speaker is elected.
Keep meeting. Keep voting. Keep driving until the GOP clown car finally crosses the finish line. “If you’re going through hell,” an old saying advises, “keep on going.” It’s the least they could do.