Fri, Mar

Two Kinds of Rino in Republican Zoo


GELFAND’S WORLD - Long ago, a famous pundit provided a definition of whether a senator was a member of a particular political party. Voting with a political party to form the ruling majority party defined somebody as a Democrat or a Republican. You might call yourself an Independent, but whether you voted to put Mitch McConnell or Chuck Schumer in control was the defining characteristic. Failing to join the ruling coalition was to place yourself outside of party discipline and, essentially, outside of the party.

In this sense, the Republicans who voted to remove Kevin McCarthy as Speaker were just a different form of Republican in Name Only, aka RINO.

Early in the year, the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives spent a week selecting Kevin McCarthy as Speaker, but threw him overboard the first time one of their Right Wing RINOs whistled. Then, in the face of two foreign wars and an upcoming funding crisis, they spent another week fighting over how to get an ultra-right wing insurrectionist elected as Speaker. It turns out that there are some things that even Republicans won't do.

At least unanimously, anyway.

So what is going to happen next? In particular, what is going to happen tonight when the Republicans hear from 9 Speaker candidates, and what is going to happen should they manage to choose one as their next nominee?

Just about anything is possible, but let's consider some of the likelier possibilities and then consider one or two wild ideas.

Let's start with the most predictable outcome, based on what we have seen so far in 2023. There are lots of Republicans who are not, in their heart of hearts, on the same page with Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan, and don't want to vote for somebody who is publicly known as a "bomb thrower." They showed their numbers by putting up 25 votes against Jordan in his last attempt at Speaker. At the same time, there are 8 or so Republicans who are the bomb throwers, who don't want to support anybody who would deal with the Democrats, and who would gladly take the United States into another government shutdown.

The predictable result of this schism is another replay of the McCarthy/Jordan affairs. Perhaps the Republicans will coalesce around some far right wing congressman, but someone who is a little quieter than Jordan.

This would be a remarkable achievement in diplomacy, but I don't buy it.

By the way, of the 9 candidates for Speaker, the vast majority were insurrectionists when it came time to confirm the election of Joe Biden. So the current race is so packed with the Trump-got-elected crowd that it is hard to distinguish them from Jim Jordan other than the personality difference.

So the first prediction is that the Republicans will muddle along into the summer of 2024. Sometimes they will have a speaker and sometimes they won't, but the result will be that the United States government will ratchet along from one crisis to another, just as Republican hard liners seem to like.

Under this kind of government, there will be a few moments when compromise legislation is required, such as aid to Israel and Ukraine. Will they be up to it? Will we have a temporary budget so we can prevent a government shutdown? Who knows?

The next possibility, but an unlikely one, is that some member of the Republican Party will gain the support of the caucus to a sufficient extent as to be a real Speaker. This means, among other things, having the power to punish members who break from the party ranks.

A Wild Idea

Might as well toss in a wild idea: Any 110 members of each party could form a new centrist party and have a ruling majority. With 115 or 120 of each party, there would be an overwhelming majority. Such a party could be built around fiscal conservatism without a lot of difficulty. The problem comes when they try to deal with the more controversial issues such as abortion, prayer in school, or voting rights. I imagine that the formerly Democratic side of the new coalition would be OK with spending more on border security. I also imagine that the formerly Republicans would be willing to avoid talking about abortion, since it has been killing them at the polls. I don't know how they would deal with other contentious issues other than to tiptoe around them. But this is the solution that a lot of people have been suggesting, although they usually apply it to a third party presidential candidacy.

I don't think the third party congress is going to happen, but it is amusing to think about a House of Representatives that more resembles something the founders would have foreseen, and unlike the polar two party system of the present day.

Here is another wild idea which works logically and would drive the Fox News announcers out of their minds. Kevin McCarthy could have tried it if he had a few vertebrae. It depends on the Speaker nominee having 10 or 15 Republican votes in his back pocket. When the roll is called, they will not have entered the chamber as yet. Thus, enough of these will refrain from voting that the remaining Republicans will total 210 or 211 votes (whether they vote for the nominee or somebody else). In other words, without the non-voting representatives, the Republicans will lose because the Democratic nominee will hold a narrow majority. If Matt Gaetz and his friends have voted for anyone other than the Republican nominee, then the Democrat will have a substantial majority. At this point, the Gaetz clique can switch their votes to the Republican nominee, and the others will enter the chamber and cast their votes at this time, giving the Speakership to the Republican nominee.

Passing on your first chance to vote is nothing new in the House. It happens all the time. Sometimes, the representative isn't even in the chamber, and his/her vote gets cast after all the A's to Z's have been called. So put it to good use.

It's just a way to call Matt Gaetz' bluff.

Some people have suggested doing something similar by the use of the vote of "Present."

By the way, what would be the effect of electing Democrat Hakeem Jeffries to be the Speaker? The answer is that the Democrats couldn't pass anything without Republican near-unanimous support. Also, Jeffries would protect the Republicans by not bringing up embarrassing votes on banning abortion.

Again, it's a never-going-to-happen scenario, but wouldn't it be fun to watch the Republican nominee call the bluff of the Gaetz eight? Nobody on the Republican side would have to vote for a Democrat. A few of them would just take their time in getting to work that day.

What's really going on in the House?

Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo recently argued that the crazies actually run the party and that they rule by using figurehead Speakers. If that is the case, then we are likely to see a highly conservative Speaker nominee emerge from the Monday night caucus, but this one will be more careful to do what he is told.

And how could we tell if a real Speaker emerges, one who can function as Speakers have traditionally functioned? The first clue would be a reshuffling of committee memberships and Chairs, where Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz are banished to the committee on sanitation department oversight. Removing George Santos from the House would be another sign of strength.

(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at [email protected].)