Republicans fight not to have speakers, but also not to have leaders in practice | ET REALITY


Kevin McCarthy, the ousted president, was making his way through the Capitol when reporters asked him what he thought of the chaos consuming House Republicans, who for nearly three weeks have tried, unsuccessfully, to replace him.

His response veered towards the existential. “We are,” he said Friday, “in a very bad place right now.”

That might be a euphemism.

In the House, Republicans are searching for a new leader, mired in an internal battle marked by shouting, cursing and a new avalanche of candidates. In the Senate, his party is led by Sen. Mitch McConnell, who spent weeks arguing that he remained physically and mentally fit enough for the job after freezing mid-sentence in two public appearances. And in the 2024 election campaign, dominant front-runner Donald J. Trump faces 91 felony charges in four cases, generating a barrage of legal news that often overwhelms any of his party’s political messaging.

While national Democrats are largely backing President Biden and his agenda—more united than they have been in years—Republicans are divided, directionless, and effectively leaderless.

For years, Trump has dominated Republican politics, with a reach that could end careers, create new political stars and upend the party’s longstanding ideology on issues such as trade, China and federal spending. He remains the party’s nominal leader, capturing a majority of GOP voters in national polls and maintaining a double-digit lead in early voting states.

And yet their dominance has turned Republicans into a party of one, demanding absolute loyalty to Trump and his personal feuds and pet causes, such as his false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. The result is an endless loop of chaos that even some Republicans say threatens once again to define the party’s brand heading into an election in which Republicans (after struggling to fulfill the basic responsibilities of governing the House of Representatives) Representatives) will ask voters to also put them in charge of the Senate and the White House.

“This looks like a bunch of 11th graders trying to elect junior class president, and that will hurt our party in the long run,” said former Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who is challenging Trump for the party nomination. . “It’s going to be very difficult to make the case that the American people should hand over control of the government to the Republicans when you can’t even elect a president.”

In recent months, the former president has focused more on his own legal risk than on his party. Ignoring pressure from the Republican National Committee, Trump has largely opted out of some of the party’s biggest moments. He skipped the first two Republican primary debates for his own events and plans to skip the third, giving up the opportunity to present his party’s message to an audience of millions.

And he has largely taken a hands-off approach in the fight for House speakership. Nine months ago, he helped install McCarthy as president. But he didn’t come to McCarthy’s rescue this fall when Rep. Matt Gaetz led the effort to unseat him. He later endorsed Rep. Jim Jordan, who failed to gain enough support.

Political parties that are out of power often lack a strong leader. In 2016, Trump’s election plunged Democrats into years of ideological battles between a restive liberal wing and a more moderate establishment. But what is less typical (and perhaps more politically damaging, some Republicans said) is the prolonged, televised turmoil that publicly exposes internal dysfunction.

“It’s kind of a pirate ship without a captain right now: a Black Pearl without Jack Sparrow,” said Ralph Reed, a prominent social conservative leader, who argued that the problems would eventually be resolved. “But the good thing is that at some point we will have a speaker.”

“These Republicans are complete idiots,” Ann Coulter, the conservative commentator, said on a radio show last week.

McConnell all but gave up on Sunday talk show interviews. “It’s a problem,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “We are going to do our job and hope that the House can function here soon.”

And the Wall Street Journal editorial board, long a bastion of establishment Republican thinking, wrote More than a week into the drama: “As evidenced by the current mess in the election of another House speaker, never underestimate the ability of Republicans to commit electoral suicide.”

Most frustrating for some Republicans is the fact that the complicated battle is largely symbolic. Democrats control the Senate and the White House, meaning whoever becomes president has little chance of turning his agenda into law.

Still, there could be real-world political implications. While Republicans fought each other, Biden focused on a real war. He spent much of last week seeking support for Israel, with a wartime visit and a prime-time Oval Office appeal for $105 billion in aid to help Israel and Ukraine, funds that face a uncertain future in a House frozen by infighting.

It’s a split screen that Democrats are more than happy to highlight.

“The president of the United States, a Democrat, gave the strongest pro-Israel speech, at least since Harry Truman, perhaps in American history,” said Rep. Jake Auchincloss, a moderate Democrat from Massachusetts. “The divide is on the Republican side of the aisle, where they are so fractured that they can’t even elect a leader from their conference.”

Mike DuHaime, a veteran Republican strategist who advises Christie, said the inability to elect a speaker was a “new low” for Republican governance. “If you don’t have the presidency there is no clear leader of the party,” he said. “That’s natural. What is not natural here is that we cannot lead our own group.”

But others say Trump, along with social media and conservative media, has upended the party’s incentive structure. With a wide swath of the conservative base firmly backing the former president, there may be little political cost to causing chaos. The eight Republicans who voted to unseat McCarthy, for example, probably won’t face any backlash for plunging the party into chaos. As his message is amplified in conservative media, they are more likely to see his political stars rise, with an increase in fundraising and attention.

“What’s happening is there are people who don’t want to be led, but they also want to engineer a situation where they can be betrayed and use that to criticize the leadership,” said Liam Donovan, a Republican strategist and former National Republican Senatorial Committee. assistant.

Some Republicans doubt the incident will have any lasting impact. In the summer, the party will choose a candidate at its national convention, and that person will become the Republicans’ new standard-bearer.

Nicole McCleskey, a Republican pollster, said the messy House dispute would be forgotten by next November’s elections, fading away as just another moment of broken government amid near-record lows in voter confidence in Congress.

“People are used to Washington dysfunction and this is just another episode,” he said. “They are Republicans and Democrats, and they are all dysfunctional. “For voters, it’s just more proof that Washington can’t address its problems.”

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