To paraphrase former Speaker Sam Rayburn, Republicans have proven they can knock down a barn. In the aftermath of John Boehner’s resignation and Kevin McCarthy’s withdrawal, now they have to find among their number a carpenter who can rebuild the House. Until then, our Congress is being held hostage by Banana Republicans with a bad case of electoral dysfunction.
The theater critics of Washington have long asked why Barack Obama won’t lead our government, ignoring that the GOP’s raison d’etre has become obstruction, if not outright deconstruction. As Mike Huckabee recently put it, “The race for speaker of the House is not about Kevin McCarthy, it’s about burning the corrupt Washington political machine to the ground.”
Expecting Obama to quiet this unruly minivan is a silly notion. Right now Republicans are not capable of leading this country. The question isn’t whether Obama can lead them but whether they’re capable even of governing themselves.
After McCarthy quit the scene, the House descended into “total confusion,” according to New York Republican Peter King, who reported that some congressmen wept inside the cloakroom. “We have to end this. We look absolutely crazy,” he said.
Former George W. Bush speechwriter Matt Latimer agreed the congressional Republicans looked bad, writing, “Are they moonlighting as Justin Bieber’s chaperones? Did they all serve on the OJ Simpson jury?”
How bad? The Globe and Mail, a Toronto newspaper, editorialized that Canada might need to take drastic measures to keep out American political refugees: “It’s time to build a wall - the higher the better.”
The Tea Party members of Congress are demanding that their next leader follow their lead. Says Louisiana Republican John Fleming, the Tea Party wing wants a speaker who isn’t “dictating the agenda” and who gives “power to the individual members.” In other words, they want a speaker who only speaks when spoken to.
They might as well demand no bedtimes and all the candy they want. California Democrat Mark Takano got it right when he posted a fake Craigslist job posting for a new speaker: “Babysitting experience STRONGLY PREFERRED.”
Top all this off with Donald Trump leading the primary field, and this is exactly how the Republicans did not want to head into the 2016 elections. Their post-Romney autopsy warned about alienating Hispanics and women and otherwise appearing like a ship of fools that couldn’t steer away from the rocks. That autopsy, once a hopeful document, now looks like an actual autopsy.
When Republicans took over the Senate, Boehner thought he had his chance to show Americans that Republicans could handle at least one branch of the government responsibly. “Just because we might not be able to get everything we want doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to get what we can,” he said. He tried, and for his attempt to govern a legislative body over which he nominally presided he was branded a traitor by Tea Party activists.
The problems for the GOP won’t end when the Freedom Caucus says grace over a speaker because the Tea Party’s idea of running the House is more similar to lunatics taking over the asylum than to any conventional notion of governing. Shutting down the government? Yep. Endless parliamentary maneuvers to stop regular business? Uh huh. Stomping their feet and holding their breath till they get their way? Can’t wait.
We’re already seeing a little of what’s in store once they figure out who is third in line to the presidency. Utah Republican Jason Chaffetz finished up his investigation into Planned Parenthood’s funding, saying, “Was there any wrongdoing? I didn’t find any.” So the House voted to create a special committee to investigate, you guessed it, Planned Parenthood. That’s right, birth control is the new Benghazi. Pap smears are on a permanent war footing now.
Of course, Republicans could also work with Democrats to find a consensus Speaker and find compromises to govern responsibly. Congressional Republicans could even choose to govern, but this year the Cubs have a better chance at winning the World Series than Congress has of acting like grownups. Remember, this is Washington where hope springs infernal.
Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, a Democratic consultant and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford