No problem in the American system at this moment is as acute and disruptive as the one posed by the Republican Party.
Yes, of course, there are any number of structural problems facing American politics.
Our system of elections — first-past-the-post voting, the Electoral College, single-member districts and partisan gerrymandering — feeds into and amplifies our partisan and ideological polarization. Our system of federalism and dual sovereignty between state and national government allows for laboratories of autocracy as much as testing grounds for democracy. Our counter-majoritarian institutions and supermajority rules stymie democratic majorities and turn stability into stasis, putting terrible stress on our entire political system.
But it’s hard to deal with any of those, or even just live with them, when one of our two major parties is on a downward spiral of dysfunction, with each version of itself more chaotic and deviant than the last.
For years, it has been evident that the Republican Party can’t govern. When Donald Trump was in office, it was revealing to see the extent to which Republican majorities in Congress struggled to write and pass any legislation of consequence. To wit, after an unsuccessful herculean lift trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act and a successful effort to cut taxes (the lowest hanging fruit on the conservative menu), congressional Republicans essentially stopped legislating until they were dislodged from control of the House in the 2018 midterms.
What’s become clear of late, in the midst of the chaos that has left the House without a speaker at a particularly fraught moment in foreign and domestic affairs, is that Republicans are as unable to organize themselves as they are incapable of leading the affairs of state.
The worst of the problem of the Republican Party, however, is evident in the rise of Jim Jordan and the ascendance of the insurrection wing of the party, with only modest opposition from supposedly more reasonable Republican lawmakers.
Representative Dan Crenshaw of Texas, for example, has a reputation for being reasonable. He is staunchly conservative, but his feet are mostly planted in reality.
Crenshaw has been publicly critical of the most disruptive and intransigent members of the House Republican conference, especially those in the House Freedom Caucus, and even wrote an essay in The Wall Street Journal condemning the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election. A small gesture, all things considered, but still more than most of his colleagues could manage.
Crenshaw seems like the kind of Republican who would oppose Jordan’s bid to be speaker of the House. Jordan, first elected to the House in 2006, is a far-right ideologue and conspiracy theorist whose most notable accomplishment in office was helping to organize his fellow ideologues and conspiracy theorists into the House Freedom Caucus in 2015. Jordan, who represents the Fourth District of Ohio, was one of Trump’s leading supporters in the months leading up to and following the 2020 presidential election, accusing Democrats, repeatedly, of trying to steal the election.
“Jim Jordan was deeply involved in Donald Trump’s antidemocratic efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election,” Thomas Joscelyn, one of the authors of the final report from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the Capitol, told CNN last week. “Jordan also helped organize congressional opposition to counting Biden’s certified electoral votes. None of Jordan’s efforts were rooted in legitimate objections. He simply sought to keep Donald Trump in power, contrary to the will of the American people.”
Crenshaw’s stated contempt for exactly the kind of rhetoric and behavior exemplified by Jordan has not, however, stopped the Texas Republican from backing his colleague from Ohio for speaker of the House. In an interview on Sunday with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Crenshaw claimed that Jordan had “become part of the solution, not part of the problem” with regard to the chaos among House Republicans and dismissed Jordan’s contempt for the law and attempt to overturn the presidential election as non-issues. “If I held that grudge, I wouldn’t have friends in the conference,” Crenshaw said. “I was on an island there.”
Crenshaw isn’t the only supposedly reasonable Republican member of Congress willing to look past the fact that the leading candidate for speaker of the House was an active participant in a scheme to subvert the Constitution and install a defeated president in office for a second term.
“Even some of the Republicans who have vowed, publicly and privately, to fight him at every turn are beginning to get weak knees about supporting him, fearing that collective will is dwindling as their numbers decrease,” Politico reports. Jordan’s allies have also expressed their view that the opposition to his bid for speaker will melt away as the actual vote on the floor comes near.
Once again, Republicans are confronted with a deeply transgressive figure with open contempt for the institutions of American democracy, flawed as they may be. Once again, Republicans swear they’ll resist his ascent. Once again, Republicans cave, more fearful of losing a primary — or coming in for criticism from conservative media — than they are of virtually anything else.
And each time they cave, these more moderate or mainstream Republicans make the situation a little worse, for themselves and for the country. Kevin McCarthy bowed to expediency and pressure when he voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election in the House of Representatives. He did the same when he empowered the most gleeful insurrectionists in his attempt to gain the speaker’s gavel. Now he’s out, and Jim Jordan is on the rise.
If he wins, Jordan may not last in the position. The kind of speaker who must twist arms and make threats using conservative media to win the job is, in the modern House, not the kind of speaker who survives long beyond the next election cycle, even if his party holds its majority.
Who will replace Jim Jordan if and when he falls? It could well be someone worse. And it will probably be someone worse, because there is nothing happening inside the Republican Party right now that can keep it from falling even farther into the abyss.
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