Days Without a Speaker: 20
There comes a point when repeated jokes cease to be funny and just become pathetic. We are at that point with the vacant speakership in the House. At first, it was funny. Now, I just shake my head. I’d like to feel sorry for the Republicans, but the mess is one of their own making. I and many others warned them about the direction of the party for years, and we were mocked and scorned for our trouble.
The latest news as of this writing is that Rep. Tom Emmer, a Minnesota Republican and the House’s majority whip, is the frontrunner for the position. CNN reports that Emmer won the nomination over the objections of 26 Republican congressmen, but the Trump team is whipping up opposition to Emmer. By the time you read this, Emmer’s candidacy may have gone down in flames.
What is Emmer’s big sin? The word on the hill is that at least 10 Republicans opposed Emmer because he voted to certify the 2020 election and supports aid to Ukraine. Apparently, election integrity and aiding allies who are fighting off Russian aggression make him a moderate in the New GOP.
The far right isn’t the only faction attacking Emmer. From the other end of the spectrum, opponents are citing Emmer’s support for the Texas lawsuit challenging the 2020 election results and a host of policy positions, including opposing a cancer treatment bill 12 years ago as a lobbyist.
A “‘moderate’ Republican he is not,” one opponent wrote on the platform formerly known as Twitter, adding “Those don’t exist anymore.”
Maybe not, but Emmer’s opponents to the center and left should consider that, of the seven Republicans currently vying for the Speaker job, only two voted to certify the election. One is Emmer and the other is Georgia Republican Austin Scott. Moderates are where you find them and if Emmer gets shot down, the odds are good that whoever eventually gets the job will be worse.
I’m sure it’s tempting for Democrats to just sit back, munch popcorn, and enjoy the show as the GOP melts down, but at this point, it’s in their interest to play the kingmaker and help the least-worst Republican candidate crawl across the finish line. I think some Democrats would be willing to meet in the middle, the question is whether any Republicans are interested in their help. After Matt Gaetz’s kamikaze caucus killed Kevin McCarthy’s speakership over using Democratic votes to avoid a government shutdown, there hasn’t seemed to be much of an appetite for bipartisanship from the GOP.
Lack of bipartisanship is a big part of the Speaker crisis, but so is Republican division. It’s really the combination of the two that has paralyzed Congress.
The situation reminds me of Rhett Butler’s criticism of Ashley Wilkes in “Gone With the Wind,” as a man “who can't be mentally faithful to his wife and won't be unfaithful to her technically.”
The Republican Party as an organization can’t bring itself to fully commit itself to Trump and MAGA, but it also can’t bring itself to walk out of the marriage. The result is a rocky, dysfunctional relationship in which the party collectively stalks off and slams the door and then returns to fling itself at its once and future standard bearer.
If we break it down even further, we see that there are about 10 to 20 Republicans at each end of the spectrum. One wing wants a moderate and the other wants a bomb thrower. The vast majority of Republicans in the middle of the caucus are happy to bend with the wind in either direction and plaintively channel Rodney King’s “Can’t we all just get along?” plea.
The problem here is that one side doesn’t want to get along. One side wants to hold its breath until it gets its way or it will take its ball and go home.
For the kamikaze caucus, there is no incentive to make a deal. They want chaos. If they get their choice of speaker, they’ll likely push for a hardline on the next shutdown talks because they think that a shutdown fight will energize their base and help them in next year’s elections.
The situation plays right into their hands because, with no Speaker, there can be no deal to avert the shutdown. For them, not having a Speaker is almost as good as having their own choice of Speaker.
In my years as a Republican, I encountered lots of people for whom a government shutdown was a feature not a bug of the fiscal battles. If you go into Republican social media circles, you’ll see the refrain “SHUT IT DOWN” repeated quite a lot. A lot of these people don’t want a partial temporary government shutdown, they want a permanent shutdown of every part of government they oppose The parts that they would have stay open are a short list that does not extend much beyond the military, Customs and Border Protection, and Social Security.
A prominent example these days is disgraced “Dilbert” cartoonist Scott Adams, who posted a series of thoughts on the platform formerly known as Twitter questioning whether not having a Speaker was actually a bad thing.
For example, on October 23, Adams posted, “Since removing the Speaker, Congress has not given away any of my money to people I don't want to have it. It's progress. Let's keep it going.”
I cite this because it’s representative of the wingnut thinking that is ruling a large part of the GOP. They prefer a government that can’t do anything to one that will do anything they oppose.
This faction would call the Reagans “RINOs” today, but they have embraced former First Lady Nancy Reagan’s anti-drug mantra of “Just Say No.” In fact, Republicans seem to have lost the ability to say “yes” to anything.
The Republican Party became the “party of no” during the Obama Administration for its default position of opposing pretty much anything Obama proposed. More than a few Republicans relished this image and embraced it.
Sometimes saying “no” is appropriate and good, but government can’t work if the answer is always “no.” Republicans have known this all along and for more than a few, like Scott Adams, this is a goal in and of itself.
But now Republicans have lost even the ability to say “yes” to themselves. The party is a caricature in which the members can’t even agree to take the lead.
For Republicans, there is now an existential question: “Why do we deserve to be the majority party if we are unable to conduct even the simplest business of government when we are in charge?”
Some, like Scott Adams, will be happy with the gridlock. Those few, those happy few are already Republicans, however. But they aren’t even a majority of Republicans.
Incompetence at governing is a bug not a feature for the vast majority of voters, even those who consider themselves Republicans. Not being able to accomplish anything other than saying “no” might keep the Republican base in line but it’s hardly likely to win over the swing voters that Republicans will need in 2024.
And Scott Adams might have been right two weeks ago when he alleged that it was hard to provide an example of how not having a Speaker affected anything, but it keeps getting harder to make that argument with another government shutdown looming, while Ukrainians die as Congress dithers, and as the crisis in the Middle East grows. The Republican fringe might be happy with the situation but two-thirds of the country, including 57 percent of Republicans, believe that Congress needs to act quickly and get its shit together do its job.
The one bright side is that when this is all over, the Republican fringe may find that it has overplayed its hand. Most voters don’t like the hyper-partisanship and if Gaetz & Co. dig in their heels for too long, they may find that their ability to veto the majority of the House disappears as a more moderate, bipartisan coalition emerges.