Things fall apart: The GOP cannot hold

In what has to be a real slap in his face, on Friday afternoon, in a closed door meeting, the Republican members of the House of Representatives in a secret ballot voted by a margin of 122 to 86 for Jim Jordan to withdraw from the contest for speaker. This followed the third open vote on the house floor where Jordan once again failed to get the votes to be elected speaker. He had been hoping to go for a fourth ballot and had called for this secret ballot to show the strength of his support, but the number of negative votes being five times the number in the open vote ones conveyed the clear message that he should just go away. He finally announced that he was giving up his attempt and would ‘go back to work’, which in his case does not involve any real work but simply grandstanding about MAGA obsessions.

So what does the party do? They go home for the weekend again. They will come back for a candidate forum on Monday and maybe hold a closed door vote on Tuesday to see if anyone can win a majority. All nominations will have to be in by noon on Sunday.

This episode illustrates how without proper procedure and protocols and structure, an organization can fall apart quickly. Normally, organizations have some sort of hierarchy to allow for smooth transitions. In the case of the Republicans, the leader is the speaker which used to be Kevin McCarthy. If the speaker resigns, dies, or is otherwise unable to continue (such as in this unprecedented case of being ousted), the majority leader (Steve Scalise) would step up to the position and the third person who is the majority whip (Tom Emmer) would usually become majority leader.

But in this case, Scalise’s candidacy lasted barely a day. Why? I think that although Scalise checked all the boxes of being a right-wing extremist and Trump toady, he was just not aggressive and bombastic enough (the MAGA crazies like their leaders to be macho posturers like Jordan) and Jordan and his allies saw a chance to do an end run around him and put Jordan in the speaker’s chair. Hence while pretending to support him, they basically undercut Scalise’s candidacy, aided by McCarthy who seemed to have felt that Scalise did not sufficiently support him when he was beleaguered, and thus threw his support to Jordan. But Jordan and his allies did not seem to have properly gauged how angry Scalise and his supporters felt about the way he was treated and they in turn torpedoed Jordan’s bid.

So basically everyone is stabbing everyone one else in the back. What a crew!

Now that Scalise and Jordan are out, other people who were waiting in the wings, have thrown their hats into the ring.

A handful of Republican House members have either said they’ll seek the speakership or are considering the idea. Most prominent among them is Minnesota’s Tom Emmer, currently the majority whip, the No 3 Republican in the chamber, who has McCarthy’s backing. Others in the mix include Oklahoma’s Kevin Hern, Georgia’s Austin Scott, Florida’s Byron Donalds, Louisiana’s Mike Johnson and Michigan’s Jack Bergman.

Whether any of these candidacies catches fire remains to be seen. Under normal circumstances, Emmer would be next in line to be nominated but this is the modern day GOP we are talking about with even death threats to fellow members to vote for a particular candidate and already there are efforts to sabotage Emmer’s candidacy before it even gets off the ground, starting with serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) because Emmer is not seen as sufficiently worshipful of SSAT.

It is notable that none of them are household names because the face of the party now consists of attention seekers like Marjorie Taylor Green, Lauren Boebert, and Matt Gaetz, none of whom have any of the skills that being speaker requires. They just know how to say outrageous things to get media attention. (Incidentally McCarthy still occupies the speaker’s office) suggesting to some that he has hopes of being called back as some kind of savior.)

While the demise of the insurrectionist Jordan is to be welcomed, the fact that he got so close is disturbing.

What we have witnessed over the past few days is less the triumph of a sensible, centrist-conservative, institutionally loyal contingent of House members, and more the unsettling fact that 200 lawmakers were willing to place outsize power in the hands of an insurrectionist who, as Liz Cheney noted, was closer to Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election than any other House member. Yes, the “squishes” held firm, and kudos to them for defying the worst of their reputations. But what should have been a blatantly disqualifying record was largely treated as either irrelevant, or a mark of loyalty to the dominant figure in the Republican Party.

All of this takes place in a political universe that would have seemed beyond belief little more than a decade ago. A presidential candidate indicted for multiple felonies, and found liable for sexual abuse and of having defrauded banks and insurers, would not be the overwhelming favorite to win his party’s nomination, let alone having an even or better chance of winning the White House, if current polls can be believed.

A major political party would not have embraced funhouse fantasies of electoral fraud, or joined in efforts to harass local prosecutors for pursuing credible criminal and civil cases. Nor would it have come this close to choosing a speaker of the House who willingly put our core political premise — the willingness to accept a peaceful transfer of power — at risk.

Charlie Sykes has a good take on why Jordan lost and says that the whole sorry episode may have a silver lining.

So since the hierarchy has crumbled, there is no one who is seen as the leader, resulting in the current chaos.

Some have floated the idea that the interim speaker, just by being in the post, can act with the full powers of the speaker, thus bypassing the impasse that seems to exist in actually voting for one. But that idea seems to be of dubious legality since the powers given under the current house rules allow the interim speaker to only gavel the house in and out of session and preside over the election of a new speaker. Of course, the house makes its own rules and can vote to give the interim speaker full powers but many members object to giving him even limited extra powers for a short time, so that idea is also a non-starter, since it will likely not reach the 217 vote threshold without Democratic support.

The Republicans are in this Catch-22 situation where they cannot get a majority vote on pretty much anything without Democratic support but getting that support, or even asking for it, is also seen as the kiss of death by their rabid base.

This is what happens when you destroy procedural norms and rules in the naked quest for power. When that power eludes you, you have nothing to fall back on and are left to the mercy of the fates.


  1. sonofrojblake says

    “Of course, the house makes its own rules and can vote to give the interim speaker full powers”

    Who is going to propose this, and be labelled Jar Jar?

  2. Dunc says

    Whether any of these candidacies catches fire remains to be seen

    I’d say it’s quite possible, but probably only after stumbling through a field of rakes with one foot stuck in a bucket, and before falling off a cliff and landing on the railroad track at the bottom, right in front of a freight train.

  3. JM says

    That 80 some voted against Jordan on the secret ballot but only 20 on the public one suggests to me there may have been an agreement among the moderates on who would take the heat for voting against him. With a secret inside agreement they would need a substantial margin of error in case somebody backed out at the last minute and they would want a block large enough to make it clear that Jordan should give up. If they blocked him by only a handful of votes he would be encouraged to bully harder.

  4. Mano Singham says

    JM @#3,

    It was actually 122 who voted against Jordan in the secret ballot, so the message was quite emphatically stated.

  5. Allison says

    What the people trying to become speaker have forgotten is that the essence of power is the ability to get people to do what you want. So far, the unifying characteristic of the people trying to become speaker is their ability to alienate people. So even if one of them becomes speaker, he (are there any “she”s in the pack?) won’t be able to actually do much of anything because each has got so many people unwilling to work with him. Viz. the problems McCarthy had when he was speaker. By comparison, Trump was able to get lots of people to do what he wanted, if only because they were convinced he was a winner and they wanted to be on the winning side.

    If at some point, Trump is actually selected as Speaker, I wonder if he’ll still be able to herd the GOP masses in any particular direction, or if by now so many Representatives have come to enjoy disrupting things that they won’t follow even Trump.

  6. KG says

    Surely George Santos, with his multiple Oscars, Congressional Medal of Honour, and three Nobel prizes, is the obvious choice?

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