Good, Old-Fashioned Political Failure
Jim Jordan, Mike Johnson and the dumbing down of the Republican Party
MAN ONE: What did we learn, Palmer?
MAN TWO: I don't know, sir.
MAN ONE: I don't fuckin' know either. I guess we learned not to do it again.
Burn After Reading, 2008
Our long national nightmare is over. After more than three excruciating weeks, the U.S. House of Representatives has a Speaker. It was a process the country had never seen before and, in all likelihood, will never see again. Never before has a party and its leaders been so completely, publicly, hopelessly lost, for so long, and on such a large stage. Humiliations defining entire political careers came and went with a freakish regularity. Caucus leadership, a position historically held by members until death or retirement, changed hands not once, not twice, not three times, not even four times, but five times in a single month until the party decided they had found someone they could settle with.
That “someone” ended up being a man named Mike Johnson, a fourth-term Louisiana Republican unknown to anyone and everyone outside of his district until precisely yesterday. Only the fifth-most senior member of Republican leadership until he stumbled into his current role, Johnson has quite suddenly become quite an important figure: the most powerful Republican in the country, chief representative of his party at the federal level, only two heartbeats away from the presidency. On paper, he’s a major player, whose ascension represents a massive victory for the ultra-right of the party. And as he moves his belongings from his basement office to an ornate suite, much of the national media’s attention will go to him, and his story, and his beliefs, and what he represents, and what the “Mike Johnson Era” means for D.C. and the nation.
This is all fitting of a Speaker of the House. It’s also very simplistic, although this isn’t too surprising. With the world’s attention (rightfully) focused on the crisis in Palestine, the real-time comings-and-goings of the Republican search for a leader didn’t receive nearly as much attention as they otherwise would have. To the extent they gained notice, it was all relative to the escalating global chaos, a bleak sideshow that showed how hopelessly broken America was. Now that it’s over, it’s tempting to just write it all off as just another part in the larger, continuing drama of Washington dysfunction, an inevitability that only further confirmed what we already know about our failing government.
This narrative is largely true. The splits in the Republican caucus that led to McCarthy’s ouster didn’t appear overnight, still exist, and are crucial in understanding the right of today. But it’s also not the entire story. What happened over the past three weeks was also a saga of personal failure: good, old-fashioned ineptitude at the nuts-and-bolts of congressional politics. Before it’s all forgotten, I think it’s worth looking back at just what the hell happened in the House over the past three weeks—if not for what it says about the Republican Party, than just for the sheer hilarity of it all.
Part One: No Driver At The Wheel
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