By the time you read this, the House of Representatives may have a new speaker. It also might not have a new speaker. I can’t say for certain what world you’ll be living in, sorry.
The new speaker won’t be Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan, whose gangly effort to crowbar his way into the role was sunk after multiple efforts to secure enough votes from his own caucus this week. It’s probably a safe bet that former Speaker Kevin McCarthy won’t be making an all-is-forgiven return to the role—though it can’t be completely ruled out. It could be that North Carolina congressman and current fill-in Speaker Patrick McHenry will end up the anointed one, but that’s looking less likely as well. For that to happen, however, McHenry would have to be formally and further empowered, as the speaker pro tempore position he’s currently holding has very limited constitutional authority, owing to the fact that no one really imagined a temporary speaker doing much more than presiding over the chamber as it selected an actual speaker. Republicans will take another shot at doing this next week; Tom Emmer, who may or may not be a maniac, is considered the frontrunner.
Alas, not for the first time, we must observe that among the many things the Framers could not have foreseen is the state of today’s Republican Party: devoid of any respect for institutions and hell-bent on writing blank checks to the biggest extremists in its midst. That the GOP has made a farce of such a basic task as electing a leader should really come as no surprise to anyone. It’s been quite some time since Republicans have shown any kind of interest in performing the basic functions of a majority party in the legislature.
Forget their weird lust for government shutdowns and debt ceiling breaches; this gang of freaks can go months without putting their majority to any productive purpose at all. So let’s be realistic about their current struggles. The Republicans’ basic problem isn’t that they broke the House of Representatives—the problem is that they’ve finally perfected their approach to (not) running the joint.
[Boehner’s] tenure was marked by an increasingly futile effort to control a group of conservatives that Devin Nunes, a Republican from California and an ally of Boehner’s, once described as “lemmings with suicide vests.” In 2013, to the bafflement of some colleagues, Boehner supported the shutdown, in the hope that the public backlash would expose the group as hopelessly radical. It didn’t work. The group continued to defy Boehner. He tried to regain control as speaker by marginalizing its members, and they decided that he must be forced out.
Jim Jordan, whom Boehner once assailed as a “legislative terrorist,” is as pure a product of this political project as you can find anywhere—a 180-proof distillation of the GOP’s turn toward nihilism and unhinged self-regard. (It’s little wonder that his attempt to ascend has come with the threat of political violence toward his opponents that has become so au courant in the Trump era.) Despite his stated belief that “America wants him” to be speaker, Jordan owes his existence in Congress entirely to the fact that he can’t be held accountable by Americans: He’s stuffed into a ridiculously gerrymandered district and hasn’t had to deploy any kind of political skill to retain his seat in years. For all intents and purposes, he’s the electoral equivalent of a welfare queen.
The Ohio congressman brings little more to the table than utterly lycanthropic rhetoric, an extreme lack of legislative prowess, and a gaping void where an interest in governing should be. I’ve written previously on his only accomplishment of note: his creation of a perverse House subcommittee that’s entirely dedicated to backfilling the Fox News Extended Universe of weird culture-war lore with something that resembles a threadbare factual basis. (A task at which, I might add, he has failed spectacularly.)
I have found it darkly hilarious to hear so many Republicans whine about their struggle to elect a speaker, given that this episode is just a big demonstration that their rickety-ass, claptrap version of “governing” is going exactly the way they designed it to work. It’s the exact same feeling I get watching so-called “Never Trump” Republicans express extreme disaffection with the state of their party, as if they didn’t have a strong hand in the creation and cultivation of the shitty and cynical political project that’s now firing on all cylinders.
So many Republicans are scuttling around the news cycle, full of worry that their failure to emerge from the speaker chaos will result in a slew of bad outcomes. Nothing might get done legislatively. There’s a strong possibility of a government shutdown. The longer the House can’t function, the greater the chance that the economy gets wrecked or the United States loses standing around the world with our allies and partners. Well, let me give Republican lawmakers some much-needed succor: Their party is going to accomplish all of these things whether they elect a speaker or not.
This article was adapted from Thursday afternoon’s edition of Power Mad, a weekly TNR newsletter authored by deputy editor Jason Linkins. Sign up here.