DANIEL VAUGHAN: Republican Knucklehead Caucus Dooms Conservatism, Again

October 4, 2023

There’s always been a certain futility to Republican House leadership. Simply put, it’s an institution that doesn’t understand how to govern. With few interruptions, Democrats ran the House from 1931 to 1994. Newt Gingrich and his merry band brought the first Republican House majority in a generation. But as a group, Republicans had lost all institutional knowledge on how to run the House — and somehow they’re getting worse at it.

It’s one thing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. That concept at least implies you had the capability of winning some kind of victory, which you then fumbled away. House Republicans are doing something much worse: they invent new ways to lose, even when no one is asking them to do anything. The ouster of Kevin McCarthy served no political purpose other than Republicans operating in a circular firing squad.

Matt Gaetz: Mr. Democrat

To wit, Rep  Matt Gaetz gave long, flowery speeches about standing up for Republicans and conservative values. He did this while spending the week practically caucusing with Democrats on ousting McCarty, speaking from the Democratic side of the House, and getting all Democrats to join a handful of Republicans in kicking McCarthy out. When “The Squad” is sitting behind you and gleefully backing your plan — maybe think twice.

If Gaetz worked any harder with Democrats, he’d legally have to change party affiliations. The sole purpose of the exercise was to boost Matt Gaetz and his bid for the Florida governors mansion in 2026. Democrats saw a chance to hamstring the Republican House, and used Gaetz’s ambition to get there. Gaetz kicked McCarthy out without having even a whiff of a plan on what to do next.

That’s not an overstatement either. After the vote and McCarrhy was out, someone literally asked “now what?” No one knew what to do or had a plan. The House had to recess with each party huddling to figure things out.

30 Years of Disaster in GOP House Leadership

It’s been nearly 30 years since Gingrich swept Republicans into power. And in that 30 years, Republicans spent more time in internecine conflict than legislating. The House Freedom Caucus touts purity tests for members, but has achieved little else. The Tea Party claimed it would shake things up, but it only drove more inter party conflicts with even less accomplishments.

Trump’s election brought more of the same. The GOP controlled the House, Senate, and White House and couldn’t even deliver the basics of Obamacare repeal. Trump himself rejected a plan to build the wall and have Mexico foot the bill. The only real accomplishment of Trump and the GOP House was tax cuts.

Now we’re witnessing a GOP utterly devoid of any vision at all. Matt Gaetz has pushed a government shutdown and ousted a Speaker while pushing for no legislative changes. McCarthy had a deal lined up that would deliver conservative wins, but the knucklehead caucus rejected that too. The ability to accept victories, no matter how small, eludes the bomb-throwers on the right.

On the Senate side, there’s always been some institutional knowledge of how to govern. Republicans have none of that on the House side. All the most powerful and longest-serving Speakers have been with Democrats. A similar point is true on committee heads. You’d have to go back to the 1800s to find a powerful Republican Speaker in Thomas Brackett Reed.

Wanted: Competent Republican Leadership and Representatives

Given where we are, it’s hard to argue against the notion of voting them all out. Gaetz and his friends don’t care — they’re all aiming for higher office or cable television contributor roles.

If Matt Gaetz was a Democratic plant, it’d be difficult to identify anything different he’d have done to destroy House Republicans. When all you know is bomb-throwing and copious amounts of hair product for cable television hits, everything is a target.

From here, House Republicans will look to another big name like Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan, or someone else to save them. But until the Republican House learns to govern, it won’t matter who leads the caucus. It’s easy to find good Republican leadership at the state, local, Senate, or even Presidential level. But in the House, it’s been 30 years of non-stop disasters. The best during that period was probably John Boehner, and he gave up and retired after dealing with the bomb-throwers.

I want the next Republican House Speaker to do well and have a strong term in office. The good of the country depends on both parties understanding how to govern well, despite partisan differences. But there’s not a shred of evidence that House Republicans have reformed themselves or will change.

The next Speaker faces an immediate government shutdown crisis, something that exists because Congress cannot pass budgets anymore. Everything is done by emergency spending provisions. And with the tiny majority Republicans have, the issues McCarthy faced will be the same as the next Speaker.

We need good governance and strong leadership. All we’re getting is futility from the Republican House. The knucklehead caucus assures that reality.

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