Steve Scalise, March for Life
Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) speaking at the 2023 March for Life. Photo credit: American Life League / Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0 DEED)

With every day that passes, it is becoming more and more clear that Republicans on every level are incapable of governing, as evidenced most recently by their apparent failure to elect a new speaker of the House.

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For years, the GOP has prioritized performers over policymakers and pageantry over substance. Now, the bill for this recklessness is coming due… and it will be a hefty one.

With every day that passes, it is becoming more and more clear that Republicans on every level are incapable of governing. That is because their primary concern is constantly putting on a show for the people who got them there, who are usually the most rabid right-wingers around.

The seemingly insurmountable lead of a quadruply indicted nut job in the Republican presidential primary is the most obvious example of this, but what is happening in the House right now is almost as striking. 

There is no telling when a Republican candidate will get the necessary votes to become speaker, who that person will be, and what kind of concessions he will have to make to get the job. 

In fact, such a person may not exist, and it may never happen (without the assistance from Democrats, which we will get to in a minute). 

The math makes it clear why: There are 221 Republicans in the House. Thanks in large part to gerrymandering and a base that has veered sharply to the right in recent years (spurred by lies, propaganda, and demagoguery), only about half of them are actually interested in advancing conservative policies in a way that they believe benefits the American people. 

The other half consists of political arsonists, clowns, performance artists, right-wing influencers, and one guy who made up a fake persona to get elected. Although to be fair to Rep. George Santos (R-NY), many of the other Republicans are also just playing a role and are promoting all kinds of insane policies because they feel that they have to and not because they believe in them.

Let’s say that the first group consists of 100-150 people, which is a very generous estimate on the upper end. 

They will go along with whatever is best for the party or the “institution of the House” or whatever. However, that doesn’t get you anywhere close to the 217 votes you need to elect a speaker. Therefore, you need to get about 95 percent of that other group to get on the same page. And that’s a Herculean task. Actually, it might be more of a Sisyphean task because it seems so futile.

Here is the challenge: Imagine going out to eat with 80 friends, many of whom can’t stand each other (or you). Ten of them are vegan, another 10 say they are vegan but are not, 10 say they only eat meat, 10 say they are not hungry, 10 say they only eat in pizza—pudding fusion restaurants, 10 are not paying any attention because they are taking selfies, 10 have various food allergies, and 10 are nowhere to be found. Oh, and then there is Santos, who says everybody should eat at his royal palace because he has 437 Michelin stars.

By the way, the chef shouldn’t be gay and none of them are overly fond of ethnic things.

In order to eat, you have to get 76 of them to agree on one restaurant.

That is essentially what we are dealing with here now.

Wednesday’s secret vote was supposed to determine a nominee that everybody would then get behind.

There is a nominee — Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) — but he isn’t anywhere close to the votes he needs. He might have 205-210 locked up, but the rest will be nearly impossible to get. 

A couple have already said they would still vote for Jim Jordan (R-OH), the man whom Scalise narrowly defeated, or Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the man who lost the speakership because he dared to work with Democrats to keep the lights on in the government for another 45 days.

Then there are people like Santos, who vowed to vote for anybody but Scalise because he felt slighted by him. 

Again, these are not normal adults we are dealing with here. 

Then there is Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) who said she would not vote for Scalise, who has been diagnosed with blood cancer, because she is worried about his health.

In other words, he is nowhere close to 217.

In January, it took McCarthy 15 rounds of voting, as well as a bunch of concessions that weakened his position and eventually led to his downfall, to secure enough votes. 

There is no telling how long it will take Scalise and what he needs to promise the holdout. 

Maybe he could write a poem for Santos declaring his undying affection for the indicted lawmaker. And he might be able to appease Greene with a note from Donald Trump’s kooky doctor attesting that Scalise is immortal.

But others will be more difficult to please because they will make policy demands, such as a pledge from the incoming speaker having to impeach President Joe Biden or slash government spending by 10 percent and not give another penny in military aid to Ukraine. 

These are promises that Scalise might make but not keep, and then we’d be back to square one in a few weeks after another rebellion.

The only other way out of this mess would be to rely on Democratic votes in return for a different set of concessions. But, seeing how this kind of cooperation did McCarthy in, it seems inconceivable that a new speaker would come to power in this way.

The GOP’s total dysfunction is especially noteworthy because it is playing out against the backdrop of multiple crises that urgently need to be addressed, first and foremost helping Israel and then preventing a government shutdown.

Neither can happen without a speaker in place, and still Republicans act like babies and can’t get their stuff together — even though they must know that they are looking horrible right now. 

There is no telling how this will end. 


  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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