GOP Fight Club
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Susan Bigelow

The takeover of the House of Representatives by a small number of hard-right revolutionaries has been compared to inmates running the asylum, or monkeys ending up in charge of the zoo. But it’s not even that reassuring: it’s more like we’re stuck on a bus being driven by a guy who hates buses and wants nothing more than to plunge this one over a cliff.

Welcome to the new Republican majority, everyone! You brought your bus escape tools and parachute, right? No? Nobody has those? Ah.


What a sad scene it was this past week in Washington as the chamber that had been expertly helmed by Nancy Pelosi, possibly the shrewdest legislator of our time, was handed over to a Republican Party that couldn’t overcome a small number of rebels making absolutely ridiculous demands in order to do the most basic of tasks, electing a Speaker.

Of course, Kevin McCarthy, who is nothing if not willing to sacrifice all of his actual power for a nameplate above the Speaker’s office door, caved on just about everything. In fact, rebel ringleader Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, only relented because, in his own words, “I ran out of things I could even imagine to ask for.”

So what’s in this deal, anyway?

There’s a lot we don’t know yet, but a lot of it appears to be about forcing Congress to adopt the kinds of draconian spending cuts that Republicans only seem to care about when a Democrat is president. You’ll notice that they never got around to balancing the budget, slashing spending, or paying down the debt when they controlled the House, Senate, and presidency during the George W. Bush and Trump administrations. They preferred to lower taxes for the rich and pretend these cuts would somehow pay for themselves.

Members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus will also have plum seats on committees, including the powerful Rules committee, and, perhaps most importantly of all, a vote to remove the Speaker can be triggered by a single member.

This means that if McCarthy does something the right-wingers don’t like, they can vote to start this whole mess all over again. This is something they’re going to hold over his head to force him to do whatever they want.

The result is almost certainly going to be a two-year game of chicken in which nothing positive gets done, but the threat of a catastrophic default on our debt or yet another government shutdown is always present. Of course, moderates might try to do the same thing to try and move things in a more productive direction, but I suspect that they don’t have the guts to really dig in against their own party’s right wing. It’s a lot easier to make a show of being unhappy with the extremists than to actually do anything about it.

Which is a shame, because moderates in other states have been showing us the way to deal with the threat of gridlock. In Ohio, a group of Republican lawmakers joined together with Democrats to elect a more moderate Speaker over a far-right one. In Pennsylvania, a closely-divided chamber that seemed headed for just this kind of paralysis coalesced around a consensus pick, a moderate Democrat who promised to govern as an independent. 

That kind of thinking seems to be completely absent in the all-or-nothing world of Washington, which is how the federal government is on track to be held hostage by a group of people who despise it, and would be pleased to see it plunge, flaming, over a cliff and down to oblivion. With every disaster, they get more powerful and raise more money from the fringe groups who support them.

That’s the real problem, here. How can anyone actually deal with nihilists like these? There’s just no way. McCarthy was foolish to try, and his willingness to do whatever they wanted is going to have serious consequences, for him and for the rest of the country.

I’m not saying that Democrats should have leaped to help Republicans find a more moderate Speaker; that sort of initiative needs to be taken by moderate Republicans themselves. If there are no serious overtures from across the aisle, Democrats have no reason to try and force something. Really, if McCarthy had had a single unselfish, patriotic bone in his body, he would have gone to the Democrats and proposed some kind of less horrible deal that would have kept these extremists away from the levers of power. But he didn’t. So everything that’s going to happen from here is on him.

It’s too bad we’re all trapped in this bus with him.

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Susan Bigelow

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.