Reviews | The Burn-It-All-Down Republican Caucus
Republicans continue to reap what they sow.
The party’s utterly embarrassing inability to choose a Speaker of the House after multiple attempts is a crisis of its own making. Since at least the Barack Obama years, the Republican Party has seen the strengthening of its right flank, the one whose mission was not to produce politics but to prevent progress, the one whose tactics were destruction rather than diplomacy. .
You could see the beginnings of the current iteration of this political extremism when John McCain cast the woefully unqualified Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008. She wasn’t nerd, but she was stubborn. She was the anti-Obama.
During her speech at the Republican National Convention in 2008, she said she had learned that if “you are not a member in good standing of Washington’s elite, some media consider a candidate not to be qualified for that reason alone”. But, she continues, “here’s a little info for all those reporters and commentators: I’m not going to Washington to seek their good opinion; I go to Washington to serve the people of this country.
Palin exposed a dangerous reality about the Republican base: that it craves disruption and spectacle, that it would cheer on anyone who annoys liberals, that performance is far more important than skill.
Like a virus evolving in variants, the Palin fervor funneled into the Tea Party movement, which evolved into the Freedom Caucus and manifested itself among voters as Trumpism.
The party establishment chose to ignore those on the fringes, believing that the energy they generated could be beneficial and any harm they caused could be mitigated. In any case, they represented only a fraction of the members and could always be outvoted.
The problem was that their influence and profiles continued to grow. They learned a lesson born during the Palin years: spectacle produced fame, which produced power, which produced influence and perhaps control.
They began to exercise this power. The Freedom Caucus essentially forced Republican House Speaker John Boehner to resign in 2015 because its members felt he wasn’t strong enough against Obama. Rep. Peter King reportedly said, “To me, this is a win for the fools.”
But these “madmen” were far from finished. They refused to back Kevin McCarthy for president at the time because he was Boehner’s No. 2 and because Republicans were furious that he slipped and told the truth about the Benghazi investigation: that he it was a political witch hunt designed to damage Hillary Clinton’s presidential prospects.
Some of that old disdain for McCarthy has no doubt lingered and is showing up in this week’s failed votes to get him talking.
Donald Trump became Exhibit A for the synergy of fame, power and influence the Republican base needs when he broke through the establishment firewall in 2016 and gave his supporters what they needed. wanted: an unbridled political anarchist, a shameless white nationalist.
During the Trump era, the party’s Marjorie Taylor Greenes became rock stars among the base, even as they cracked jokes among their co-workers. Their success has made the term “fringe” a poor way to describe them. In many ways they are the Republican Party.
All the while, too few mainstream Republicans have stood up to their antics and misdemeanors. Paul Ryan, who became president in 2015 when the Freedom Caucus made it clear its members would not support McCarthy, knew Trump was a problem but said little to push him away until Ryan left. its functions.
As Tim Alberta reported in Politico Magazine in 2019, Ryan made a conscious decision when he was a speaker not to “reprimand” Trump but “to help institutions survive”, to “build up the country’s antibodies”. and to put “the guardrails in place”. He wanted, he said, “to roll the car in the middle of the road” without letting it “go into the ditch”.
Ryan, like many other mainstream Republicans, believed that by biting his tongue, hanging his head, and doing his best to work with Trump and do his job, he was protecting the country.
But that silence has been interpreted as acceptance, not only by Trump, but also by the party’s fiery members of Congress. Now that group has grown strong enough to prevent a Speaker of the House from being elected on the first ballot for the first time in 100 years.
And they get precisely what they want: more headlines, more airtime, more spectacle and therefore more power.
They are not interested in governing, but rather in teasing the growing urge of the Republican base to throw a wrench in the gears.
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