In Washington yesterday, on Jan. 6, Democrats in particular remembered the storming of the Capitol two years earlier by a mob that had been riled up by then-President Donald Trump. Representatives of the rioters are now sitting in the House of Representatives and demonstrating what they are capable of as they elect the speaker of the House. With their goal of finally sticking it to those up in Washington, they have paralyzed the political functioning of the people’s chamber by denying Kevin McCarthy, the leader designated by their party, their support in the election for speaker. In doing so, the rebels, who are supposedly Trump loyalists, are adding to the Republicans’ perceived loss in the midterm elections last November — they won the majority but not by the margin that the polls had predicted. They are making the Republican Party look like a disunited mess that is not even capable of resolving personnel issues within their own party. Can a party like that really be expected to offer a vision for the country that they decisively represent?
As of yesterday, on the fourth day of voting and at least the 12th failed attempt to elect McCarthy as speaker, the ordinarily well-informed New York Times had still not figured out what the dissenters really want. Do they themselves know? Even Donald Trump failed when he called upon the 20 or so malcontents to get in line. The spirits that he summoned up appear to have taken on a life of their own
For years, the Republican Party has been veering toward this state of unpredictability, which is now expanding among representatives of the Grand Old Party. Even representatives of the so-called Tea Party movement, which set the ideological tone among Republicans during the Barack Obama administration, didn’t have only populist and right-wing propensities. Donald Trump, after all, fully embodied the radical irrationality that they had introduced into political discourse. Even worse, they provided no obstacle to his path to the White House. His erratic behavior was accepted, as Trump succeeded in convincing wide swathes of the population that his lies were, in fact, reality. The current rebels among Republicans in the House of Representatives are not alone in maintaining the conviction that Trump, not Joe Biden, won the 2020 presidential election.
So the question remains whether Republicans are willing or even able to help move the country forward politically. The Democrats may have followed the proceedings of recent days with a degree of self-satisfaction, given the Republicans’ embarrassing showing. But these two years before the next election will be difficult. Fewer and fewer Republican members of Congress are maintaining a culture of consensus, which will make it difficult to reach compromises even for someone like Biden, who has decades of experience in the business of Washington politics. Instead, radical members of the GOP will probably set the agenda, especially if Trump cannot be dissuaded from running again in 2024. The Republicans are increasingly becoming a liability, and not only for the political culture of the United States.