Two weeks ago, we wrote one of these columns and snarkily subtitled it: "New Job Vacancy: Chief GOP Cat-Herder." This week, we really should have gone with: "Babysitting Experience STRONGLY PREFERRED," but Salon had already used it (we'll explain that joke in a bit, promise). Instead, we chose to feature the word which appeared in too many headlines to accurately count over the past two days, because describing what is going on in the Republican Party these days is pretty downright hard to do without using the word "chaos" in some fashion or another.
Chaos is king. Chaos reigns in the House Republican Caucus, reflecting the chaos from the Republican presidential campaign trail. The question is what will emerge from this maelstrom -- a beautiful phoenix-like rebirth of the Grand Old Party, or perhaps such a wide split that the Republican Party fractures the same way the Democrats and the Dixiecrats did over half a century ago. At this point, either outcome seems equally possible. We are in chaotic and uncharted waters, folks. In fact, you can almost hear the Discordians chanting "Hail Eris!" at this point (that was an obscure Robert Anton Wilson joke, just because it seemed like the perfect week to toss it into the mix).
Here's how Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post summed up what's going on: "Less than a year after a sweeping electoral triumph, Republicans are on the verge of ceasing to function as a national political party. The most powerful and crippling force at work in the -once-hierarchical GOP is anger, directed as much at its own leaders as anywhere else." Others are more sanguine, predicting that some sort of moderate will emerge to drag the House Republicans back to respectability, in the same fashion Denny Hastert did after the Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston fiasco. So perhaps this week's fracas over the speaker of the House will be seen later as nothing more than an intra-party squabble, but then again perhaps not. Even if they do finally select some hapless fool to take the job, the dynamics of the situation aren't going to change one bit.
To review how we got here: John Boehner had an impossible job, and he finally got fed up dealing with the lunatics in his own party. He announced he was stepping down. The consensus candidate was supposed to be Kevin McCarthy, who immediately went out and baldly admitted a deeply-held Republican secret: the Benghazi hearings were designed purely to destroy Hillary Clinton's chances of becoming president. Whoops! You're not supposed to admit stuff like this out loud, much less in a nationally-broadcast television interview. Whether this mattered or not to the Tea Partiers in the House (who are now known as the "Freedom Caucus," naturally), they indicated that they wouldn't be voting for McCarthy on the House floor. To put this another way, they may have tanked McCarthy even if he had never made his infamous gaffe -- McCarthy is, after all, Boehner's hand-picked successor. When McCarthy saw that he was unlikely to get the necessary 218 votes, he immediately withdrew his name from consideration.
The Tea Partiers, as usual, had no "Plan B." 'Twas ever thus.
So we now find ourselves at an interesting (and, of course, chaotic) juncture. There seem to be four main possibilities as to what's going to happen next. Of course, there are other things that could happen (such as Nancy Pelosi convincing 30 or so moderate Republicans to vote her in as speaker once again), but we're trying to limit them to things we consider likely.
The first is perhaps the stupidest. Some are speaking of bringing in a "caretaker" speaker (or "interim" speaker), whatever that means. The idea is to find some House Republican who has already announced they'll be stepping down next year, and convince them to run the place until they leave. In other words, get a doddering old warhorse up there to hold the place together for another year. This would display the weakness of the Republican Party in starker fashion than any of the other options, though, because they'd be essentially campaigning on: "We got nothin' -- elect us for another two years!" So much for all of that talk of the "Republican deep bench," eh?
The second option is to have a savior part the waves and lead the party to safe ground. Currently, there is only one name that has even been mentioned for this role: Paul Ryan. The only problem is, Ryan is not a fool and can see how doomed to failure any speaker is going to be right now. He's said over and over again that he's not running for speaker, no matter how much everyone is begging him to do so. Ryan knows that accepting the job might just be the end of his political career, and it's no surprise that he's got his sights set higher than "ended his career as a disastrous speaker of the House."
The third option is to have someone else swoop in and save the House Republicans from themselves. The speaker of the House does not actually have to be a sitting House member, so in theory they could elect anyone to the job. Which has given rise to much high-spirited speculation about who could come in as some sort of enforcer to whack some heads and get some things done. Think this is an impossibility? Well, consider one name being batted around: Dick Cheney. That'd be interesting, that's for sure. The showdown between Darth Cheney and the backbenchers could raise a lot of money on pay-per-view, don't you think? Heh. Others seriously (or unseriously) proposed include Newt Gingrich (no stranger to unruly Houses) and Mitt Romney. Why not Michele Bachmann or Sarah Palin? They don't seem to be doing much of anything, and would likely relish the fun of being speaker. Oh, you betcha!
Snark aside, that leaves what is now looking more and more like the most likely outcome: Speaker John Boehner goes nowhere. He is forced to keep his leadership position because there is nobody else House Republicans can agree upon. Holding the vote for the next speaker is entirely at the discretion of the sitting speaker, so Boehner is simply not going to have such a vote until his caucus can guarantee one candidate will indeed get 218 votes. Until that happens, Boehner will remain in charge, whether he likes it or not.
Which leads us straight into a bout of conspiratorial thinking. We have absolutely nothing to base this on, we're just offering the meme up to the wider online world to see where it goes. What if this was all some sort of brilliant move by Boehner to show the Tea Partiers that not supporting Republican leadership leads straight to chaos? "See -- you can't even agree among yourselves," Boehner (in this scenario) is pointing out. "How are you going to take on Obama and the Senate Democrats when you can't even get your own act together?!?" It'd be awfully Machiavellian of Boehner to have engineered this chaos as an instructional tool, but it certainly could free him of ever paying any attention to the Tea Partiers again.
Maybe Boehner is actually going to be the Denny Hastert figure. By showing the world the Tea Partiers' chaos and impotence, Boehner could be free to begin operating the House in an entirely new fashion. Budget bill due? Boehner could -- from the very start, and not waiting until the last minute -- sit down with Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and Mitch McConnell, and hash out some bill that is acceptable enough to both sides to gain the necessary votes in both houses. Boehner might let the Tea Partiers have a few tantrums on the House floor, but then he'd quickly move on to passing bills in a timely fashion. By doing so, he'd actually wind up advancing the conservative agenda a lot further than the Tea Partiers have ever managed to do, since he'd be able to write these bills weighted heavily with Republican priorities (but without deal-killing measures like defunding Planned Parenthood or overturning Obamacare). The Tea Partiers would scream and gibber, but they'd have no power to change the outcome.
This is what John Boehner has wanted to do all along, it should be noted. He's always wanted to engage in such deal-making, because he thinks he's pretty good at it (and he thinks that's what the speaker of the House is supposed to do). He has been stymied at every turn, but if he now shifted the way the House operated back to its historical role in legislating, there'd be nothing the Tea Partiers could do, at least not until they came up with their own candidate who could get the necessary 218 votes.
Do we really think Boehner is capable of such a Machiavellian plot? Not really, if truth be told. If this does come to pass -- Boehner moving into the Hastert role -- then it is likely just coincidence. By all reports, Boehner was shocked that McCarthy had to withdraw yesterday. Unless he's a lot better actor than we've so far seen, it's hard to argue that he would have been so shocked if this was all some master plan of his.
Anyway, that's where we're at in the heart of the chaos. Either Paul Ryan is going to magically save the House Republicans by riding to the rescue on his flying unicorn, or John Boehner is going to remain speaker of the House until at least December of 2016. The safe bet right now would (we suppose) be on Boehner keeping his job, but in these chaotic times, your guess is as good as ours as to how this is all going to play out.
As can be expected in such a time of Republican chaos, many Democrats and their fellow travelers were more than happy to point out the ludicrous nature of Republicans not being able to come up with a single candidate for what is supposed to be one of the most prestigious and powerful jobs in Washington. Being speaker of the House is (or used to be) an honor, a position of leadership, and a much-sought-after job. Not these days.
While many stood out in their reactions to the Republican chaos, there was one response that perfectly captured the situation. Representative Mark Takano, a Democrat from California, put together a hilarious draft "for hire" Craigslist posting. The mix of snark and normal job posting language makes it an instant classic in the world of political satire. Our favorite (as mentioned previously) is the "Babysitting experience STRONGLY PREFERRED" bit, since that one phrase sums Boehner's past problems up better than we've yet heard anywhere else.
Here's the text of the Takano's fake job vacancy ad:
SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE (Washington, D.C.)
Are you an American citizen? Do you have experience negotiating hostage situations? Are you ready for the challenge of a lifetime? Then this job is for you!
We are seeking an extremely patient and motivated person to lead the U.S. House of Representatives.
Responsibilities includes [sic]:
- Keeping the government open
- Avoiding a default on U.S. debt
- Maintaining women's access to health care
- Explaining to the "Freedom Caucus" the concepts of compromise and democratic governance
- Proven ability to work with irrational people who pursue narrow priorities at the expense of millions of others
- Proficiency in Word, Excel and PowerPoint
- Babysitting experience STRONGLY PREFERRED
- No Congressional experience necessary
RINOs NEED NOT APPLY.
Brilliant! A hilarious bit of icing for the chaos cake we've all been served up, this week. For gloriously using satire to point out the collapse of the House Republican Party, Mark Takano has more than earned himself a Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award.
[Congratulate Representative Mark Takano on his House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts. And his sense of humor, of course.]
Hillary Clinton moved further towards progressivism this week, when she kind-of sort-of came out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal. This is a tough sell for Clinton, since a lot of the negotiations towards writing the agreement happened while she was running the State Department. But what struck us was the monstrous amount of wiggle room she left herself while supposedly announcing she wouldn't support the deal. Here's the quote, from an interview on PBS: "As of today, I am not in favor of what I have learned about it." So, she's not in favor of the deal? Well, not really -- that can be parsed as she's not in favor of what she just learned about it, but would support the deal with a few changes. Also note that "as of today" qualifier. For such a lawyerly answer, Clinton at least deserves a (Dis-)Honorable Mention. Contrast her statement to just about anything Bernie Sanders has said on the subject during the past six months, to see why.
But our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award goes to a political action committee this week. The "Draft Biden" group was formed (unsurprisingly) to draft Joe Biden to run for the presidency. Pretty self-explanatory. However, the group made news this week when it announced it would begin airing a television ad to convince Joe that the time had come to throw his hat in the ring. That's not all that controversial, as similar groups have launched similar efforts in the past to convince politicians that they already have a support team behind them.
What was controversial was the ad itself, which was a pretty naked bit of emotional manipulation. The entire spin of the ad was, in essence, that Joe Biden has tragically lost family members -- multiple times -- and because of this, he'd make a great president. Sound cynical? Watch the ad and decide for yourself.
By week's end, the ad was hastily shelved, after Biden let it be known that he didn't exactly approve that message. Joe Biden still hasn't made up his mind. It's nice that there's a group of people devoted to trying to convince him to do so, but they need to seriously readjust how they're going about it. Emotional propaganda probably isn't going to help Joe make up his mind, one way or another.
For their ham-handed first ad, the group Draft Biden is this week's Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week. Back to the drawing board, guys.
[We routinely refuse to provide links to campaign web sites, and we're extending this ban to political action committees supporting candidates, so you'll have to look up Draft Biden's contact information on your own, to let them know what you think of their actions.]
Volume 365 (10/9/15)
Obviously, this was a one-subject week, after Kevin McCarthy's stunning announcement. So this week's talking points are all centered on the ongoing circus in the House Republican caucus. As James Carville once famously said: "When you're opponent's drowning, toss him an anchor."
All of these are, in one form or another, designed to get people thinking about why they'd ever want to vote for a Republican if this is the best they can manage to do when they get to Washington. More and more, the 2016 election is shaping up to be one for Democrats to score a record victory, due to the Republican strategy of self-immolation.
I mean, seriously, when the best answer to a crisis is to return to the status quo which created the crisis in the first place, it's pretty easy to point out the intellectual bankruptcy being displayed by the other side. "Babysitting experience STRONGLY PREFERRED" is still the best way to put it, but here are seven other suggestions.
What deep bench?
Is it too late in the year for baseball metaphors?
"For quite some time, Republicans have been bragging about how 'deep' their 'bench' is -- how they had more qualified people to draw upon to run for president than the Democrats did. Well, Republicans have more House seats than they have in almost a century. So where is this vaunted 'deep bench' in the House? Nobody wants to lead the House Republicans? Nobody? Wow. So much for that deep bench -- in the end, that bench looks pretty darn shallow."
Here's another fun one to try out.
"Maybe the House Republicans can use the vacant speaker's chair to do a test drive of all their presidential prospects. Put each of them in charge of the House for two weeks, to see what they'd get done. Of course, this might horrify some Republicans, when they consider what Speaker Trump or Speaker Carson would actually do. This brings up an interesting point -- if you can't imagine Donald Trump or Ted Cruz leading the House of Representatives, why should the rest of us give them the job of leading the country?"
A timely reference if ever there was one.
"I think that for Hallowe'en this year, I'm going to dress up as a Freedom Caucus member and go around to all the House Republicans' offices. I can't imagine a scarier costume for them to see standing on their porch than that, personally. Boo! I've come to eat your brains! Everybody run!"
Why not throw them under the nearest bus?
This one really cuts to the bone. To be asked of a non-Tea Party Republican in the House, of course.
"Why don't you guys grow a spine and just throw the Freedom Caucus under the nearest bus? They've done nothing for you or your party except make you look like clowns and fools to the entire nation, after all. We Democrats know there are still House Republicans left who want to actually get on with the business of governing the country, so why don't you just walk away from the Freedom Caucus crazies? Why not reach across the aisle so we can both get some things done and solve a few problems? You've seen what they have to offer -- pointless and suicidal political grandstanding that accomplishes precisely nothing. Whenever you get tired of that, Democrats are more than willing to help you make the Freedom Caucus completely irrelevant. At this point, you seem like you don't have much of anything left to lose."
How about Nancy?
If that last one wasn't snarky enough, go for the gold!
"Nancy Pelosi has around 190 solid votes to make her the next speaker. Unlike pretty much every Republican I see, from John Boehner on down, it now looks like there are no Republicans at all who want the job. I don't blame them, really. But seeing as how that's the case, if 30 Republicans decided they were tired of watching a Republican speaker do an impossible job of trying to keep all their party's factions happy, they could just shift their votes to Pelosi. If some House Republicans care more about hating whoever is speaker than they care about advancing any kind of agenda, then why not give them a Democratic speaker to hate? They'd really be much happier hating Pelosi, and with a few dozen Republicans willing to work across the aisle, the country would be happier because there would be no more shutdowns or debt defaults on the horizon. The more I think about it, the more I see Speaker Pelosi as the answer to all the House Republicans' problems."
What, exactly, was the point?
Have this one handy if Boehner announces he won't be stepping down, after all.
"So after all that chaos, we're going to wind up right back where we started from? Really? Wow. John Boehner wants to retire as speaker, but now he can't because there is nobody else to do the job -- that's just stunning when you think about it. So what exactly was the point of all this drama? Boehner's still got a faction he can't control, and the faction wants to blow up everything if they don't get 100 percent of their way. The Tea Partiers are incapable of leading, and they refuse to follow. Sounds like a recipe for not a whole lot getting done in the next year."
We'll prove it!
An oldie but a goodie, to end on.
"You know, Democrats like to make a joke about a mythical Republican campaign slogan, and the events of this week seem to prove it more than anything else in recent memory. Republicans gained control of the House and the Senate, and they seem absolutely incapable of getting anything done -- they can't even find anyone willing to lead them in the House. It all goes to show that even though they don't actually use the slogan when they campaign, it is precisely what Republicans are all about: 'Government doesn't work -- elect us and we'll prove it!'"
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