More than two weeks after ousting Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House and less than a month before the complete shutdown of the federal government, the House Republican caucus has left the United States of America without a functioning legislative branch.
The persistent and pathetic inability of the Congressional GOP to agree on anything has produced a laugh-so-you-don’t-cry level of incoherent incompetence rivaled only by an unsupervised kindergarten classroom picking what they want for lunch. And while normally, I’d write this off as a political circus — like much of the coverage in the mainstream — I am sorry to tell you that this is an important and substantive struggle among the least serious people ever. This Speaker saga is what happens when the canary in the coal mine stops singing.
While the news has breathlessly covered every gamified move in this power play for one of the most important offices in Washington, it has forgotten to delve into why this is happening beyond an internal Republican schism. It’s not just that the House GOP are the messiest band of two-faced bitches this side of brunch; it’s that they have deliberately developed a self-defeating caucus to run a self-destructing government. Now, decades of intentional, strategic electoral mischief have resulted in a party continuously embarrassing itself on the world stage.
To explain: You know how there are dozens of stories in the last decade and more about extreme gerrymandering, voter suppression, and the removal or neutralization of elected officials operating on behalf of marginalized and unheard communities? All of those tactics, all of that effort has been for the benefit of Republican lawmakers, the product of a huge conservative apparatus of legislators, judges, lawyers, governors, and donors. For ages, Republicans have carved themselves districts that are nearly impossible to lose, creating a homogenous voter base that doesn’t know (or care) how unusual and monochromatic it is. This has bred intense extremism: the natural result of the contrast constantly being turned up to the maximum. And now all of those voters have gotten themselves a big cut of Congress: with 19 known Tea Party members, 49 likely members of the secretive House Freedom caucus, and the biggest circle on the Venn diagram, the 118 members still present who voted against certifying either Arizona or Pennsylvania’s electoral votes after Trump’s attempted coup.
TL;DR: This isn’t some small band of renegades, pulling the Republicans apart for their own mysterious and chaotic reasons; this is an entire party of extremists, unable to decide whether we should just jump off the cliff or strap ourselves to a rocket and launch ourselves instead.
The problem of the speaker election can’t be solved by rule changes or committee assignments or promises to put certain pieces of legislation on the floor. The problem is that not a single member of the House GOP caucus was elected to govern, so there’s no reason for the shenanigans to ever end. The demands of the members, like the constituents they so studiously chose, are entirely untethered from reality: a national abortion ban that gets women to “suffer” for the audacity to want sex, in a country that has no visibly queer or trans people, with only bibles on every publicly available bookshelf, guarded by an impossibly high wall embedded with razor blades paid for by Mexico to stop Hamas from coming over the border. They’re a living fever dream of paranoid delusions, demanding to be taken seriously but not literally or literally but not seriously and angry that anyone else exists to disagree with them.
The House GOP can’t make anything they actually want into law because none of those demands have structure or logic; you can’t make a primal scream into legislation. Republicans aren’t in Washington to govern; they’re there to prevent Democrats from doing so.
And that’s what is happening with this Speaker race. Even though there are undoubtedly enough GOP members in districts that will lose their seats for repeatedly voting for whatever unhinged abomination eventually unites the caucus, not a single one of them is willing to accept that loss and cross over to support Hakeem Jeffries as Speaker. For the vast majority of Speaker votes, Jeffries has been closer to the final number necessary than his opponent; even voting “present” would allow him to set rules and give those members a chance to pass legislation that matters. But it would be a “betrayal” of the GOP for the House to function by Democratic hands, and so we are left with a broken government with Republicans “in charge.”
So it doesn’t matter if Jim Jordan succeeds or fails, if the GOP finds a compromise or a solution that lets their dysfunctional caucus limp towards the line—they’re not trying to win. The Republican Party is just there to pretend that our crumbling governance is anything but losing.