Many Democrats were concerned when, in the wake of Rep. Matt Gaetz’s motion to vacate the chair of his own party’s speaker, House Democrats voted alongside those eight Republican lawmakers intent on destroying their own caucus. Some understandably fretted about the optics: Would the Democrats be blamed for providing Republicans an assist in aiming a wrecking ball at their own membership? Wouldn’t it have been better for the country overall had the Democrats—as many House Republicans expected—simply voted to prop up McCarthy, thus allowing the peoples’ business to proceed, however fitfully? It isn’t pretty, but it is certainly instructive.
As it turns out, the answer is “no.” By handing the Republicans an anvil as they leap overboard, Democrats have provided this country with an unparalleled teachable moment about the real nature of the Republican Party.
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As they flailed (and failed) this week to elect a new speaker for their own caucus, Republicans have tried many tactics: intimidation, cajoling, and soliciting their delusional supporters to make outright threats. Their first tactic was to enlist the help of Fox News blowhard Sean Hannity to game the selection for them.
But threats and intimidation have an unintended side effect: They piss people off. Most of the House Republicans on the receiving end of this tweet are safely ensconced in gerrymandered districts. The idea behind this message shared on X (formerly the platform known as Twitter) is to pressure them by suggesting Fox News will hold their vote against them should they refuse to vote for Jim Jordan, a Fox News favorite and the House’s most visible bomb-thrower. The unspoken threat is of a Fox-backed primary challenger placed in the back of their minds, and perhaps for a few Republicans, this might be effective. As reported by Sarah Ellison and Will Sommer, writing for The Washington Post, Fox’s cash cow Sean Hannity (along with right-wing podcast pontificator Steve Bannon) has in fact been deeply involved in trying to orchestrate Jordan’s coronation.
As Ellison and Sommers write:
Fox News host Sean Hannity vented to his millions of viewers Monday night about the state of the Republican effort to name a new House speaker — taking special aim at the “few sensitive little snowflakes in Congress” who were not supporting his preferred GOP candidate, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio.
But the widely watched conservative pundit wasn’t only using his televised bully pulpit to pressure the holdouts. Hannity also spent the weekend personally calling several and having one of his producers reach out to others to lobby them on their vote. He also took to social media to encourage his followers to call wavering members and demand they fall into line.
The fact that an unelected right-wing spewmeister like Hannity even thinks he can exert such influence serves to illustrate just how beholden to conservative media these hapless House Republicans—at least a good portion of them—really are.
RELATED STORY: Sean Hannity knows just who to blame for Jim Jordan’s incompetence: Democrats!
It hasn’t worked, mostly because some Republicans in absolutely red-safe districts (primary, shmimary!) realized they could afford to ignore Hannity. Vulnerable Republicans in “swing” districts, however, were sensibly terrified of elevating a do-nothing terrorist like Jordan because they’d surely receive blowback in a general election that for them depends at least on independent voters, if not actual Democrats. It’s also possible that many of them simply don’t like the consummately unlikeable representative from Ohio and didn’t look forward to spending the next year under his thumb. Whatever the reason, it didn’t work.
So Jordan’s backers tried a new tactic: outright threats from anonymous supporters, aimed at a Republican congressman’s wife. Here’s a series of threats against her husband delivered to the wife of Nebraska Rep. Don Bacon, essentially saying, “vote for Jordan … or else.”
But people—even Republicans—don’t like threats delivered to their families (Republicans have not threatened their fellow caucus members’ children yet, but that seems to be the next logical step).
Amid all these threats and bullying, Democrats are sitting back and enjoying the show as Republicans reveal themselves to be utterly incapable of policing their own ranks, let alone settling on a speaker to represent them. But even as Americans watch as the mean-spirited, violence-threatening, authoritarian face of the GOP rears itself, they are being taught a valuable lesson that would never have occurred had Democrats simply done the “nice” thing—the “expected” thing—as they nearly always do, in keeping Rep. Kevin McCarthy afloat.
One should always be careful about citing a Newsweek op-ed, but this one from Professor David Faris of Roosevelt University actually seems quite insightful. As Faris writes:
The inability of Republicans to choose a leader in the House is a lot of things at once—it's a tremendously telling indictment of the party's lack of interest and skill at the basic tasks of governing. It's further evidence of a widening gulf between what is now a caucus majority of radical election-deniers and the few remaining institutionalist holdouts. And it's proof that the new, cut-throat Democratic strategy of letting Republicans hang out to dry instead of coming dutifully to the rescue is the correct one—for now.
Even though that seems less and less likely as the days wear on, Faris acknowledges the risk exists that Republicans will finally coalesce around a Speaker Jim Jordan. However, from a realpolitik standpoint, that could actually turn out as a positive for Democrats. Any Republican would be bad, he admits, but few Republicans are as attractive a target as the repulsive Jordan.
He's so unlikable that even ideologically radical Republicans like Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO) who have no meaningful policy beefs with him are lining up to torpedo his bid. He would be, in every possible way, a gift for Democrats to run against next year, not just because of his sordid antics but also because of the insanely unpopular policies he backs, like a national abortion ban.
And this is where the realpolitik rubber hits the road, so to speak. Faris observes that for years Democrats have “shielded” the American public from the real-world consequences of Republican “governance.” The public still—perhaps desperately—clings to the notion that these two words (‘Republicans” and “governance”) are anything but a complete oxymoron, because in prior instances it was Democrats (along with a few Republicans) who have taken on the task of preserving or saving things that the public actually likes. He cites the attempt by most Republicans to destroy the Affordable Care Act, as well as Democrats’ recent forestalling of Republicans’ attempt to shut down the government. Faris believes that this has created a false sense of security among the public, tantamount to thinking that things will always somehow “work out,” mostly thanks to the intervention of reasonable people, i.e., elected Democrats.
Had the Democrats propped up McCarthy, according to Faris, we’d still be fostering that illusion. But with the advent of this new and noxious strain of Republicanism—the kind that threatens the families of its own members, or is expected to cave to the whims of reactionary fools like Sean Hannity and Steve Bannon—we are simply operating under a different paradigm, whether we like it or not:
As the MAGA train rolls on, there are fewer and fewer Republicans left to push back on the party's worst impulses. That's why House Republicans needed Democrats to save them from this mess to begin with, and had they thrown Kevin McCarthy a few votes, no one would be any wiser about what these Republicans want to do with their power. We would've staggered along, with spending bills passed after arduous standoffs, giving the illusion that Republicans are capable of governing.
Faris believes that the time where Democrats—particularly in their minority status in the House—could save the public from the consequences of Republican malfeasance and incompetence may have passed. Which is why voting along with Republicans to oust McCarthy made sense, at least for the time being:
The Democratic strategy, whoever ultimately wins the speakership (and I do still expect it to be a Republican), has successfully laid bare the complete absence of competence at the core of the Republican Party. Without their Democratic training wheels, GOP leaders are failing over and over and over again at the simplest job in all of politics - choosing a party leader for your congressional majority. It is a terrible look for Republicans, especially with multiple pressing legislative matters on the agenda.
As we approach a mid-November deadline for a looming government shutdown, brought on entirely by the Republican Party’s own inability to govern, Faris allows that the Democrats’ strategy may need revisiting. But for now, it’s mostly time to pass the popcorn while the American public has a good look at what Republicans really are.
RELATED STORY: Whether he's speaker or not, Jim Jordan is another beneficiary of the GOP disinformation machine