I have been posting a lot about the utterly chaotic search for a new speaker for the House of Representatives. This is not because that news story is so important that nothing else matters. Although the lack of a speaker and the resulting paralysis in government may well lead to a government shutdown on November 17, there are other important things going on in the world as well.
My fascination with this story is because I do not think that I have ever witnessed such a spectacular act of self-immolation by a major political party. Let us be perfectly clear. This is a completely self-inflicted party death. It was not caused by any external factors or forces. It was not caused by being routed at the polls. It was not caused by people rioting in the streets against it. What happened is as if some members of the party secretly decided to destroy the party from within and set the wheels in motion. I am not saying that that is what happened. But if it had, this is what it might have looked like.
I have to admit that I am feeling considerable schadenfreude at this implosion. The GOP has become a vehicle for hate and demonization of anyone who does not support serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) and all his lies and attacks on people. It has been waging war on marginalized groups and opposing anything that might seek to redress the legitimate grievances of anyone who does not belong to the ruling class. It has welcomed to its bosom white, right wing, xenophobic, misogynistic, transphobic, racists. Seeing it turn on itself provides a satisfying feeling akin to what one experiences in films where the bad guys, after riding high for a while, get their just deserts at the end. But that enjoyment is tinged with concern that it also shows that the state of democracy in the US is not healthy.
How did it get this way? That is going to be the topic of many, many political science dissertations but one thing is clear that it has its roots in the decision by the party leaders to abandon any commitment to norms of democratic discourse and use any strategy and tactics, however dishonest and vicious, if it provides a means of gaining power. And when the perpetrators of these poisonous methods found that they got plenty of attention from the right wing echo chamber, plenty of media coverage, and financial contributions from both ordinary people and wealthy zealots, there was nothing to hold them back from escalating the rhetoric and spiraling into a situation where anything goes. What does it say about a party that three of the most recognizable people in it are Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Lauren Boebert?
A political party needs some kind of glue to hold it together. It could be a broad ideology or specific policy goals or even a charismatic leader who has some kind of vision for what they want to achieve. The current GOP has no ideology or positive policy goals to unite around and its purported leader SSAT has no vision but only self-interest. The speaker debacle and the humiliation of Jim Jordan may not be the end result of that lack of cohesion (it could and likely will get a lot worse) but it is definitely symptomatic of deep dysfunction.
Soon after [Jordan] lost the party nomination in a secret ballot, putting Republicans back to square one. Critics saw it as the awful spectacle of a party – held together by the glue of grievance, “owning the libs” and a cult of personality – coming apart at the seams.
Kurt Bardella, a Democratic strategist, said: “We are seeing the inevitable outcome of years of neglect, years of lack of leadership, years of lack of courage culminate with what is a completely ungovernable and dysfunctional Republican party. The fact that there isn’t a single Republican right now who can get 217 votes is illustrative of deep schisms within the party and these deep wounds that there is no healing from.”
Bardella, a former spokesperson and senior adviser for Republicans on the House oversight committee, added: “Time and again the bad actors in the Republican party have been rewarded for their bad behavior. They get rewarded with television time. They get rewarded with raising millions of dollars in contributions.
“They get rewarded with plum committee assignments. Whether it’s Jordan or a Matt Gaetz or Marjorie Taylor Greene, who time and again we’re told represent the fringe of the party, they continue to be elevated and empowered by the leadership that’s in charge.”
The so-called ‘moderates’ or ‘respectable leaders of the party all share the blame for this. They were cowardly and complicit during the early days of this decline when they might have been able to tame the beast. But instead they fed it, hoping that the beast would be satisfied and leave them to run the party as they had done before. But the beast’s appetite is voracious and is no longer satisfied with what is being offered and is now turning on the very people who had enabled its growth.