Articles

The Unmaking of the Republican Majority

October 19, 2023
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The Republican calamity continues. As I write, the House is still without a speaker more than two weeks after Kevin McCarthy was deposed by Rep. Matt Gaetz’s band of political arsonists. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan hasn’t yet persuaded, cajoled, enticed or threatened his way to 217 votes. He may not get there.

It will be ironic if Mr. Jordan wins: The founder of the House GOP’s Freedom Caucus must then become the unifier in chief. A man who during 16 years in Congress has never passed a bill would have to become a master legislator. A politician who gained power by bullying others would have to learn to persuade and energize them. He would find quickly that making demands in Washington has limits—as does anyone stuck with the speaker’s job.

Mr. Jordan also has a fondness for government shutdowns. If he’s elected speaker, will he champion one even though the GOP’s four-seat House majority depends on 14 Republicans from districts Joe Biden carried in 2020, six of which are in New York or California? And how well will Mr. Jordan, a former right-wing hell-raiser, do at recruiting good candidates and raising the funds necessary to elect them? I’d bet not nearly as well as Mr. McCarthy. 

If he does end up speaker, Mr. Jordan should fulfill his promise to return power to committees and operate under regular order, in which committees create and put forward legislation rather than party leadership ramming bills down members’ throats. He needs to stand by that promise even if a Republican committee majority approves budget bills he disagrees with, or brings to the floor measures to provide aid to Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan, tied with more funding for border security. Looking at his record, one wonders if Mr. Jordan will say regular order is proper only so long as it conforms to the views of the Freedom Caucus. Will a disrupter like him allow the House to pass measures backed only by Republicans? Or bills on which both Democrats and Republicans might agree?

The inestimable Rep. Matt Gaetz, who gave America this period of instability and Republicans a PR disaster that could cost them their slim majority in 2024, said this week that “we should put a demand on the Senate to pass our single-subject spending bills.” Nice thought and a worthy cause in theory, but this will go nowhere—especially as an ultimatum from a loudmouth who blocked single-subject appropriations bills when Speaker McCarthy was trying to move legislation that way.

Since the GOP holds only the House, and by only a bare margin, the next Republican speaker must set priorities, focus on the possible, and aim for incremental changes that bend government toward conservative principles. A Freedom Caucus backbencher can demand purity from GOP leadership. But a speaker must aim for the maximum reasonable advance in a conservative direction, not act as if he controls Washington with his gavel. 

Any new Republican speaker must be careful about substituting his opinions for those of the House GOP membership writ large. He can try persuading, but given the disunity and anger in the House Republican Caucus, he can no more dictate to them than to President Biden or Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. 

Still, for all the Republicans’ problems, there’s hope: Americans don’t likeDemocrats either. A Sept. 23 Gallup poll found 56% gave the GOP an unfavorable rating while 58% rated Democrats unfavorably. The saving grace for Republicans is that on big issues, Americans pick the GOP by a large margin.

The Republican calamity continues. As I write, the House is still without a speaker more than two weeks after Kevin McCarthy was deposed by Rep. Matt Gaetz’s band of political arsonists. Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan hasn’t yet persuaded, cajoled, enticed or threatened his way to 217 votes. He may not get there.

It will be ironic if Mr. Jordan wins: The founder of the House GOP’s Freedom Caucus must then become the unifier in chief. A man who during 16 years in Congress has never passed a bill would have to become a master legislator. A politician who gained power by bullying others would have to learn to persuade and energize them. He would find quickly that making demands in Washington has limits—as does anyone stuck with the speaker’s job.

Mr. Jordan also has a fondness for government shutdowns. If he’s elected speaker, will he champion one even though the GOP’s four-seat House majority depends on 14 Republicans from districts Joe Biden carried in 2020, six of which are in New York or California? And how well will Mr. Jordan, a former right-wing hell-raiser, do at recruiting good candidates and raising the funds necessary to elect them? I’d bet not nearly as well as Mr. McCarthy.

Read More at the WSJ

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