My Fever Dream of a Functional, Bi-Partisan Speaker of the House

Remember when Republicans stoutly and persistently referred to themselves as the party of law and order and personal decorum? Not for them the ragtag factionalism, irreverence and loosey-goosey relativism of the Democrats—the Republicans maintained discipline among their ranks and in their persons.

God, family, country—and long live the United States!

We’ll leave it to historians to determine the relative accuracy of the former Republican Party’s brand narrative, but there is one thing about which we can be certain: That Republican Party, assuming it ever existed at all, is no more.

Perhaps it will find or reform itself in another election cycle (more likely two or more), after the ghosts of Trumpian know-nothing populism finally run short of the rage, resentment and pure cultism that have served as the movement’s main fuel.

But for now, the true “party of Ronald Reagan”—of which the current party is but the barest, most bellicose shell—has been overrun and left as road kill. Its few surviving moderates/pragmatists are lost, dazed and without a political home after what one former Republican labeled the “Crazed Slavering Jackal Caucus” in the House of Representatives managed to bring the basic levers of an already barely functional legislative body to a complete standstill 11 days ago by suddenly disposing of Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

And they did so without the faintest idea of how to overcome their deeply disparate ideological factions in order to choose a new leader.

…Remarkable things might happen. Or at least SOMEthing might happen, as opposed to the venom and paralysis that currently pass for politics-as-usual in these fractured, broken times.

McCarthy had already been forced to endure an unprecedented and humiliating 15 rounds of voting before he won the speakership in January—and only because he made drastic concessions to his “Jackal Caucus” that allowed any one of them to call for an immediate vote on his status and be disposed of forthwith by a simple majority. When that one member—Florida’s Matt Gaetz— rose to do just that, he was joined by only seven other Republicans and all 208 Democrats in ousting McCarthy by a vote of 216-210.

If you’re wondering why no Democrats voted to stick with the devil they knew rather than face the possibility of contending with someone even worse (Ohio’s Jim Jordan comes immediately to mind), the answer is two-pronged.

One reason lies in traditional House protocols. The majority party is expected to handle its own business by rallying around its speaker, who presumably wins more votes in the caucus than other candidates and then garners his party’s unanimous support when the vote is put to the full House on the floor.

The second reason is Democrats simply didn’t trust him. One of many reasons for that distrust was McCarthy’s reneging on a much ballyhooed budget deal he made with President Biden last May to avoid a catastrophic default on the country’s debt.

Then last weekend he went on a Sunday talk show to bizarrely claim it was Democrats who had stonewalled against the continuing resolution to keep the government open, an outright lie of Trumpian proportions that elicited disbelieving laughter from the host.

“I think he’s likely the most unprincipled person to ever be Speaker of the House,” was how the mild-mannered and moderate Virginia Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger put it to reporters. “He’s disdainful, he lies about us, he lies about the process of governance.”

The only problem now, however, is that an even more unprincipled, extreme and incendiary candidate, the aforementioned Jim Jordan, is nominally leading the count after two rounds of voting, though the Republican caucus remains deeply divided and Jordan faces very long odds to garner the required 218 votes to become the next speaker.

So where does that leave us?

So glad you asked.



In the fever dream I have been nursing the past week, I see a handful (or more!) of Republican moderates, sick of the inertia and obstructionism of their extremist, bomb-throwing wing, reach out to Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries with but two words: “Let’s talk.” 

Reports have begun circulating the last day or two that such back-channel discussions are already occurring, albeit in very general terms. And as we know, such a coalition’s approach to achieving a functional House would be fraught with hard questions regarding the devil lurking in every last detail.

This breakaway Republican cabal would, of course, elicit the wrath of perhaps the majority of their conference, not to mention the invective that would be hurled at them by the putative, multiply indicted leader of their party. (Though I suspect at least some of their ostensibly opposed colleagues would be secretly cheering them on.)

But were they to drive a hard (but not ridiculous) bargain with their Democratic counterparts, insisting on electing their own speaker with, for once, bi-partisan support, with both sides invested not chiefly in sowing discord and “owning” the other side but in actually legislating for the good of the country, remarkable things might happen.

Or at least SOMEthing might happen, as opposed to the venom and paralysis that currently pass for politics-as-usual in these fractured, broken times.

This arrangement would resemble a multi-party parliamentary system common across Europe and much of the larger world, in which coalitions from disparate ideologies and voting blocs form “unity” governments, sharing power—and, crucially, responsibility—for making government work.

We need look no farther than Israel, currently facing its own crisis after Hamas’s brutal surprise attack last weekend, for a model on this. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, bitterly opposed to and by virtually all his country’s opposition parties, nevertheless formed an official unity government in the wake of the attacks with former Defence Minister Benny Gantz, leader of the country’s centrist Blue and White Party.

Such are the doings of parliamentary systems in times of national emergency, but what is not an emergency about the United States when one of its two major political parties is held hostage by a contentious minority group of legislators who have no real interest in governing and actually want to bring the entire apparatus of government to a screeching halt, who thrive on the chaos they sow rather than seek compromise?

The aforementioned Ronald Reagan, for all the sunniness of his person and rhetoric, shares major responsibility for the current state of affairs, by the way. Government, the absolutely essential hallmark of civilization lifted out of its primordial, law-of-the-jungle condition, served as his convenient whipping boy for most all the ills of modern life throughout both his administrations.

That knee-jerk antipathy has now reached its apotheosis in the essential nihilism that characterizes much of today’s Republican Party, in which cultish fidelity to a person reigns supreme, rather than to the Constitution and its outline of a functional, people-serving government.

But the remaining moderates in that party, many of them no doubt currently silent for fear of being vilified and perhaps primaried out of office next year by extremist opponents (hello, Liz Cheney and Adam Knzinger!), have a chance to do something historic and hugely beneficial for their country in the coming week. They can cross that bridge, however precipitous it might appear.

There, they can enter a land where they at least have a chance, an opportunity, a possibility, to fulfill their oath of office and long-held dreams to make at least a modicum of difference for those they serve.

Given the dynamics of their party in the House at the moment, they have virtually no chance to do so.

So: what have they to lose? Their seat in a dysfunctional, cantankerous workplace that accomplishes virtually nothing and has become the laughingstock of their country and the concern of other countries around the world who still look to America as a beacon and leader on the international stage?

If not America, then who? And if not responsible, serious, adult-in-the-room Republicans as essential cogs in a give-and-take two-party system, then who?

One plus is that most of what remains of that wing got elected to the House from relatively moderate districts where they stand a good, perhaps even enhanced chance to win re-election next year. And most of them have already ignored Trump’s full-throated endorsement of his acolyte Jordan, he of the bull-in-a-china-shop demeanor whom they all know would surely lead his delegation over a cliff, just as Trump has done on a much wider level, and would do even more of with Jordan in place.

Historian Heather Cox Richardson offered this notable factoid regarding Jordan in her regular Facebook posting last night, referring to him as “a flamethrower who, in 16 years in the House, has not managed to get a single bill through the House, let alone into law.”  

That description fits tidily with McCarthy’s about his own party’s malcontents after his ouster: “I’m not quite sure those individuals are looking to be productive…I want to be a Republican and conservative that governs.”

Sounds like just the invitation his true conservative colleagues should respond to for the good of their own party and, far more importantly, for the good of the country they are pledged to serve.


Let’s make it elementary, shall we?


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4 comments to My Fever Dream of a Functional, Bi-Partisan Speaker of the House

  • Robert Spencer  says:

    It’s nearly an impossible task to analyze rationally the chaotic insanity that presently consumes the Republican Party. It brings to mind Ella singing, “It’s a Barnum and Bailey world just as phony as it can be…” So, where does it all end? In a straitjacket? Meanwhile, the problems of governing, especially now in light of the Israeli-Hamas War, are exponentially problematic. Most congresspersons on both sides of the aisle want to give aid to Israel immediately, but a number of the MAGA nuts still bobblehead about screaming, “OK, but to hell with the Ukraine!” The GOP kinda looks like an inebriated Captain Hook juggling three chainsaws in a gator infested bayou. There’s a line from the 1937 film “My Man Godfrey”, which I recommend highly, which fits the Republican House to a tee: ALL YOU NEED TO START AN ASYLUM IS AN EMPTY ROOM AND THE RIGHT KIND OF PEOPLE. Well, I think the room is now full, and the right kind of people occupy it.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Yes, the craziness that we’re seeing has the perverse quality of making everyone watching crazy too, which plays right into their hands. They’d like nothing more than for the world to stop, all government entities rendered impotent, all institutions devalued and all basic norms and civilities that allow political culture to operate done away with. But still: if ever there were a time for Republican moderates to step forward and actually accomplish something, this would be it. Talk about norm-shattering and having an impact! The House seems to have finally reached a point of such total dysfunction that the table is set for moderates to try something different, because what they’re doing now sure isn’t working! And I think it would earn overwhelming public approval. So I’m allowing myself just a wee bit of optimism at the moment, but am taking pains, borne of long experience, not to get ahead of myself!

  • Jay Helman  says:

    Robert Spencer nails a major part of the frustration for me and many people close to me: one cannot rationally analyze the sheer craziness (and danger) inflicted on our country by Republicans. There is no explanation beyond chaos for the sake of chaos and the power that it now inexplicably rewards the most outlandish, evil, know-nothing members of Congress (and, of course, former and aspirational White House residents). Jim Jordan failed in the first round of voting as I write this entry. We can only hope, as Andrew notes, that, in light of domestic and international dangers (Hamas, Russia-Ukraine,) moderate, sane legislators with a sense of decency will step up and at least utter the two words mentioned early in this blog: “let’s talk.”

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      It occurs to me that it’s right out of Yeats, Jay: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.” I’m not sure that the few remaining Republican moderates qualify as “the best,” and certainly not, as it looks like might well happen tomorrow, if they allow themselves to be browbeaten into submission by the “worst,” i.e. Jordan and his henchmen who will stop at nothing, NOTHING! to accrue or hold onto power. The Capitol police force sure weren’t able to stop Trump, Jordan & Co. from pursuing their evil intent at the insurrection last year. But it’s unconscionable, really, for the moderates to capitulate at this point. They have seen what has happened as everyone has countenanced or looked the other way regarding Trump; that is the only thing that has made the likes of Jordan rising as he has possible at all. So they just give in because they can’t handle the bullying of Jordan, Hannity, et al? They give up on the country because…they just get tired of the hectoring? We can only hope four of them hold on and honor their oaths to protect the Constitution. Their country calls!

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