House Republicans hate each other too much to pick a Speaker

Rep. Jim Jordan
Rep. Jim Jordan Photo: Shutterstock

Republicans are locked in some kind of existential hell of their own making. They have enough of a majority to hold the House of Representatives and yet they are so riven by internal battles that they can’t elect a speaker.

Every time someone pops up as the choice of the bulk of the caucus to replace the feckless former Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), reality sets in. A lot of supporters doesn’t translate into enough supporters when just four dissenters can spell defeat. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) learned that the hard way, lasting as the would-be Speaker for all of 30 hours.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) is about to learn that lesson as well. That he’s even a serious candidate is outrageous.

Put aside the ultra-conservative politics and the sexual assault scandal, if you can overlook those two enormous drawbacks. Jordan was a leader in the effort to overturn the 2020 election results.

“Jim Jordan knew more about what Donald Trump had planned for Jan. 6 than any other member of the House of Representatives,” former Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY), who co-chaired the House investigation into the attempted coup, said. “Jim Jordan was involved, was part of the conspiracy in which Donald Trump was engaged as he attempted to overturn the election.”

So a lot of Republicans think that a man who wanted to shred the Constitution is the leader they want.

Unfortunately for them – and fortunately for the rest of us – the Republican party is in such meltdown that Jordan’s path to the speakership is as improbable as Scalise’s. Right from the start, 81 Republicans opted for a last-minute candidate, Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA), who has virtually no visibility in Congress, when the caucus met to anoint a preferred candidate. It was a pointed rebuke of Jordan.

Jordan is apparently following a Trump strategy of threatening the holdouts. Jordan supporters have been urging MAGA believers to target moderates who oppose Jordan in the belief that they will crack under pressure. Indeed, Jordan even decided to postpone a vote on the speakership so that wavering Republicans would be subjected to angry constituents demanding Republicans line up behind Jordan.

It’s typical of the Trump wing of the party to think that threats are more effective than diplomacy. It’s also typical to learn, as Jordan will, that the threats only remind the targets of why they despise the person making them. The people who pass for establishment Republicans these days are lining up to sink Jordan.

They are doing so, in part, because Jordan is the candidate of the rogue Republicans who ousted McCarthy. The anti-Jordan group feels that voting for Jordan only rewards a small band of legislative terrorists for their actions when they should be punished for causing the current chaos. The anti-Jordan group plans to run a candidate against Jordan for the floor vote for speaker, currently scheduled for Tuesday.

Jordan’s likely failure means that we enter yet another cycle of uncertainty. At this point, it’s unclear whether any Republican can unite the party enough to get the near-unanimous vote necessary to become speaker. Democrats have no incentive to bail Republicans out of their mess right now, and indeed, why should it fall upon the Democrats to rescue the Republicans from their own irresponsibility?

Unfortunately, as the only adults in the room, Democrats will eventually have to step in. They could cut a deal with some moderate Republicans to vote “present,” which would lower the threshold needed for the successful candidate. Of course, that would lead to howls of fury from the far-right, who would happily cut a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin but think House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) is “destroying America.

Meanwhile, we’re only a month away from the threat of another federal government shutdown, to say nothing of all the rest of the work in Congress that’s not getting done. But House Republicans aren’t really serious about governing. They want to put on a show for their followers. They just hadn’t counted on putting on this one.

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