This is a historic deed. This has never before happened in the history of the United States: The minority in the Senate attempts to block the appointment of a secretary with a filibuster. Certainly, candidates for a secretarial post have failed because they could not satisfy the majority of the senators, but never in over 200 years did the opposition misuse the instrument of the filibuster. Never did they demand that a candidate not only receive a simple majority (51 votes of 100), but instead a supermajority of 60 votes. The Republicans did just that yesterday — although they assure that they ultimately do not want to hinder his appointment. They did it even though three Republicans voted for Hagel, so he therefore received 58 votes, a clear majority.

They Achieve the Opposite

This is a historic low for the Republicans. Many observers, but also members of the party, had actually thought that the party was going to reframe itself, give up its total blockade politics, show itself to be more ready for compromise, and more moderate, in order to open itself to the voters in the middle. This filibuster against Hagel does not bear witness to that. It not only weakens the candidate, but is intended primarily to take a swipe at the bristling-with-self-confidence winner of the presidential election: Barack Obama. The response to the State of the Union address by Marco Rubio, the hope of the Republicans for the next presidential election, was only minimally different from the campaign speeches of the unsuccessful presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

Naturally, quite a few senators (but also members of the House of Representatives) have good reasons for their behavior. To be precise, if they do not appear conservative enough, they must fear that an even more conservative candidate will run against them in the next primary for their position in 2014 and they will lose their nice jobs in the Senate. The concern is by all means justified, because for over a decade it has become apparent that Democratic cities or voting districts are becoming more and more Democratic, and Republican ones more and more Republican. The greatest danger for the election, therefore, does not mostly emanate from the political opponent, but instead from the cherished friends of the party — and that is, for the Republicans, often members of the tea party.

Good of the Nation in Second Place

By virtue of this internal party pressure, numerous senators and representatives refuse any form of bipartisan cooperation. No longer is the good of the nation their goal, but instead only their re-election. They approve of the political system taking damage, and even democratic ground rules are rendered inoperative. The case of the filibuster against Chuck Nagel is especially grave and embarrassing for two reasons. First, the Republicans are contesting on formal grounds that it is not what it conspicuously is: a filibuster. And secondly, because they just came to an understanding with Democrats a few days ago not to limit the instrument of the filibuster because they would employ it more seldom and more reasonably in the future.

What mockery. This filibuster is a bugle call that the Republicans in Congress are using to attack everything the president suggested in his big State of the Union address on Tuesday. The conservatives are decisively storming ahead. It might only be that they have overlooked the abyss that lies just before them.