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Thursday, February 2, 2023

Rowdy Republicans: A chaotic party with no capable leadership

An unruly group that calls themselves the Freedom Caucus, has derailed six attempts by Kevin McCarthy to become speaker. That's good news but the party doesn't have anyone to do the job.
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Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., right, talks with Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, during a sixth round of voting in the House chamber as the House meets for a second day to elect a speaker and convene the 118th Congress in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2023.
(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The embarrassing, dysfunctional attempt to elect a new Speaker of the House by the chaotic Republican leadership in the House of Representatives raises a disturbing question: Does anyone chaotic collection of GOP misfits in the lower chamber of Congress have any leadership capabilities?

Certainly not Kevin McCarthy, the incapable Republican “leader,” who has failed, in six votes, to draw enough votes to become Speaker.

Writes Dan Balz in The Washington Post:

The roots run deep that brought House Republicans to this week’s demonstration of chaos and dysfunction. The problems have been building for years. Now they have been exposed for all to see — to see just how broken the GOP has become. The opening two days of the 118th Congress foreshadow turmoil, frustration and a potential breakdown in governing in the coming two years.

What has been on display is a perfect storm of misjudgment and anti-institutionalism. The failure of House Republicans to properly assess the political climate (and their own vulnerabilities) in the 2022 midterm elections left them with a narrow majority rather than the “red wave” margin they expected. That empowered the band of rebels, whose sole objective, at least for a handful, appears simply to be to blow up both the party and Congress for their own gain.

House Republicans so far are incapable of organizing themselves, as the multiple ballots for a new speaker have revealed. Six times over two days the House voted, and six times Kevin McCarthy, the man who has bent himself in every possible direction to win the speakership, has gone down to defeat. In that time, the California Republican gained not a single additional vote, despite trying concessions, indignation, confrontation, plaintive appeals and occasional brave smiles.

When a new speaker is chosen, McCarthy or someone else, that person will enter the office weakened and compromised, presiding over a majority that is not just fragile but also highly volatile. This is a dangerous combination not just for the party but for the country. The power of the Freedom Caucus rebels, who have demonstrated an insatiable appetite to claim power and extract concessions, means that even the most basic but essential functions of Congress — among them passing a budget and raising the debt ceiling limit to cover previously authorized spending — will be difficult to achieve.

An Achilles’ heel of today’s Republican Party has been its inability to govern when in power. Anti-government antagonism, which has grown steadily over the past decade, has often rendered the party incapable of separating bold political claims and aspirations — repealing the Affordable Care Act, for example — from the grittier but less satisfying work of finding a compromise. Many of the new members have come to Washington not to legislate but to stop legislation, to “drain the swamp,” as former president Donald Trump has put it. Performative politics have become more appealing (and often more rewarding, in terms of fame and campaign contributions) than working in the trenches to produce results.

As Balz points out, the chaos we see in the House of Representatives for too many years. The rise of the Republican racist Tea Party was a visible part, but we can go back another decade, to the vain, immoral Speakership of Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich, who rode a lies-filled “Contract With America” to give an incendiary group of GOP dissidents control of the House and party.

Gingrich resigned from his scandal-ridden Speakership and left Congress in disgrace over an ethics scandal that even the GOP leadership could not ignore and his hypocritical berating then president Bill Clinton for his affair with intern Monica Lewinsky while he, as Speaker, was nailing a willing House committee staffer who later became his current wife.

Liars and frauds like Gingrich, the Tea Party, and Trump’s MAGA zealots took control of the party.

Notes conservative Charlie Sykes, a “Never Trump” Republican: “The MAGA crackup accelerated as crackpots fought with nihilists, wing nuts pointed fingers at extremists, and grifters started slap-fights with one another.”

Another disenchanted Republican, strategist Karl Rove, points to an effort by the handful of Republican members of Congress who are pushing a second-term Rep. Byron Donalds as their preferred Speaker:

“The fact they are driven to nominate Byron Donalds, an unremarkable sophomore, is a sign of incompetence, stupidity and absurdness of all this,” Rove said. “This is not a serious exercise. It is an infantile temper tantrum.”

The Freedom Caucus helped detail previous GOP Speakers like John Boehner of Ohio and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. They echoed the incredible lunatic demands of Trump during his disastrous one term as president.

Concludes Balz:

Even with a Republican president, congressional Republicans could not agree on an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, of which repealing was their single most stated campaign promise. Tax cuts, skewed to the wealthy, were one issue around which all could unite, but that was more the exception than the rule.

In those earlier days, the Freedom Caucus leaders included Mark Meadows of North Carolina, who later became Trump’s White House chief of staff and was there through the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, and Jim Jordan of Ohio, who now supports McCarthy as speaker and whose ambition in the new House is to chair the Judiciary Committee and preside over investigations of the Biden administration.

Some of the most anti-McCarthy Republicans this week are cut from a different cloth than their Freedom Caucus predecessors, part of the breed of politicians for whom social media, cable news, and self-aggrandizement take precedence over the institutional obligations and governing challenges of being an elected official. These hard-liners include Matt Gaetz of Florida, Bob Good of Virginia and Paul A. Gosar of Arizona. Others like Republican Chip Roy of Texas, who has been firm in his opposition to McCarthy, have long-stated objectives to change the way the House is managed and run.

Through two days of voting, either 19 or 20 Republicans have always voted to oppose McCarthy. It’s unclear what it might take to get enough of them (no Republican can lose more than four of the 222 members in the conference unless he or she can secure some Democratic support) to move in support of someone as the next House speaker. That bodes poorly for the new majority as they try to implement their campaign promises and work with a Democratic-controlled Senate and a Democratic president.

Sad situation. Kevin McCarthy is a hothead and was too eager to get back into the good graces of Trump after he condemned the defeated president’s role in the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. His screwups brought a referral by the Jan. 6 House Committee to the House Ethics Committee for his despicable role in that attempted coup.

McCarthy should never be Speaker, but the debacle we have seen in the House this week shows that no one else in the demonic cabal of Republicans in that body is worthy.

One hell of a mess.


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