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GOP: The wrecking ball party

LEE A. DANIELS | 10/26/2015, 7:51 a.m.
In late September, John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, after years of battling Republican extremists in Congress, stunned ...
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His most recent book is Last Chance: The Political Threat to Black America. He collaborated with Rachel Robinson on her 1998 book, Jackie Robinson: An Intimate Portrait. NNPA

In late September, John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, after years of battling Republican extremists in Congress, stunned the political world by announcing he was giving up that position and leaving Congress altogether at the end of October.

A substantial segment of GOP officeholders in Congress and their echo chamber in the conservative movement publicly rejoiced.

Then early this month, Boehner’s deputy, Kevin McCarthy, the House majority whip who had seemingly been the odds-on favorite to succeed Boehner, suddenly announced – pushed by some conservatives leaking rumors of a longtime affair with a female member of Congress – that he wouldn’t seek the post. Again, a substantial number of conservatives inside and outside the House cheered.

Amid the uproar, the name of Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan floated to the top of candidates for the speaker’s post as a respected conservative who could end the embarrassing internal disarray. But almost immediately, Republican radicals and the conservative extremist echo chamber began deriding Ryan – the party’s 2012 nominee for vice president – as “too liberal.”

As of this writing, the House Republican majority has yet to choose a candidate for the position that constitutionally stands third in line to the presidency – even as crises loom over a potential breach of the debt ceiling and the GOP’s threatening another government shutdown.

One question this vicious infighting brings to the forefront is this: In years to come will scholars mark these last few weeks with the equivalent of an historian’s tombstone: “Here lies the Republican Party, 1856 - 2015”?

It’s a fair question given that the holier-than-thou battles within the party about who’s a “real” conservative are being fully reflected out on the political hustlings: The GOP presidential primary has thus far seen the majority of Republican voters vault to the top of the polls three candidates who’ve never held elective or appointive office and who make the looniest fact-free claims.

The signs indicating the fracturing of the Republican Party have long been evident. In 2012, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, two veteran scholars of American politics, published a book, It’s Even Worse than It Looks, describing how the GOP had adopted the tactic of polarization and Congressional gridlock for its own gain.

“The Republican Party,” they wrote, “has become an insurgent outlier – ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the [nation’s] inherited social and economic regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”

This month’s intra-party explosion should make several things even clearer. One is that the GOP is showing us how a real regime of “political correctness” operates. That those dirty words aren’t being applied to GOP internal squabbles, its policy positions and its legislative actions proves they’re just used to bash the progressive movement.

Secondly, it’s also entirely clear that the GOP has become a party that can’t govern honestly, as we’ve seen in state legislature after state legislature where Republicans are in the majority, or effectively, as we see to a pitiable extent with the Republican majority in the Congress.