This is also the Republican Party of 2023, man, still suffering from that day of infamy two years ago: a lack of serious leadership.
But at least then the party had more identity, even if it was Donald Trump’s cult of personality. It is now both leaderless and lacking any widely shared anchor outside hostilities on the left.
Comparing House to House, Womack said, “Describing the party today as disorganized, somewhat inactive and lacking a true identity is an accurate portrayal of where we are and it is a challenge we need to address properly.” Should be done and should be fixed quickly as the ’24 election cycle is on.” This week’s Republican showdown for a Kentucky Derby gone horribly wrong. “The gate opened and we threw our jockeys,” he said.
If you’re not persuaded by Womack, or me, perhaps two former House speakers with very different politics will convince you that Republicans face a more fundamental challenge beyond the McCarthy agonistic.
Nancy Pelosi has never been shy about her skills — she often called herself “a master legislator” — yet when I met her this week at the Capitol she turned to me to talk about the structural differences between the two parties. Underestimated your talent.
“People always credit me with, ‘Oh, you put them together,'” she recalled of her days leading the House Democrats, though still using the present-tense. “I said I really don’t, our values keep us together. We’re committed to America’s working families. If you don’t have that, what’s your reason?”
Republicans, Pelosi said, lack why. “They don’t have a value system,” she said. (And in case you’re wondering about her own plans, and the possibility of a descendant in the San Francisco succession special, Pelosi insisted she hadn’t talked to her daughter Christine about running and at least “wasn’t leaving” period.”)
Anyway, I would argue that, in recent years, Democrats have been more united by their animosity toward Trump than by their shared commitment to working families. Negative bias is the most powerful current in this era of polarization, and you need look no further than the former speaker himself. The Pelosi memes aren’t her cowboy covid legislation or her caucus deliveries on Build Back Better — they’re her ripping off Trump’s State of the Union speech, standing by her side at White House meetings and shades her as she leaves Are applying His West Wing.
That said, his point about Democrats benefiting from shared values remains.
As one of his GOP predecessors explained to me, in characteristically lengthy fashion, there is no such unity of purpose among Republicans at the moment.
Newt Gingrich said his party is competing with a band of “crazy disruptors” in the House, a cadre of “Biden Republicans” who enable the president in the Senate and “a grassroots base that seeks anger.” “
Stuck in the middle, Gingrich said, is the sunny son of 1970s Bakersfield.
“Kevin’s a cool California boy who’s not angry because he grew up in a time when the surf was up, the Beach Boys were playing and California girls were singing,” said the former speaker. (Before you ask, he teed) take that line off the cuff in a telephone interview).
Yes, it’s Newt.
I can see some of you rolling your eyes at Gingrich. But he has his finger on the conservative pulse today, as he did when, speaking of C-SPAN, he was a young rebel with a cause, chasing Tip O’Neill through the new cameras in the House chamber. Were staying
More significantly, Gingrich remains in contact with several key players in the party, most notably McCarthy, with whom he joined on a barnstorming tour before last year’s midterms. The two have been in touch this week. Gingrich’s advice to her, as related to me: “Smile, feel indispensable, have tremendous patience, get other people talking.” (McCarthy’s mood, Gingrich said, could be described as “it would be nice if it was over” but he was “not disheartened”).
Of late, Gingrich, ever the historian, has been comparing this moment in the GOP to the disastrous 1964 primary between Barry Goldwater and Nelson Rockefeller, which split the party and led to the Democratic landslide that year. Yet as I reminded the former speaker, two years later a new tide of Republicans swept into office, including a Californian by the name of Reagan, and two years after that the Republicans reclaimed the White House.
It is to say that the pendulum is swinging in American politics. As another grand old man of the GOP, Haley Barbour likes to say: “In politics, things are never as good or as bad as they seem.”
And to be fair, it’s hardly unique for today’s Republicans to find themselves in the wilderness due to a lack of leadership and recognition for the party outside the White House.
Yet what makes this moment different is the long shadow of Trump.
Until the party decides whether it is going to embrace or pursue Trump for a third consecutive nomination, it will never fully resolve its identity crisis.
Gingrich said the proposition was very simple: “If Trump focuses his anger and gets serious he’ll be the nominee or he doesn’t focus and doesn’t get serious, in which case you’ll probably get DeSantis.” “
This week was an example of the difficulties of a party in transition, no longer fully embracing Trump, but still not fully moving on from him two years after inciting the rebellion.
He doesn’t want to give up control, so he heads into the speaker’s race just long enough to make a few calls and weigh in with McCarthy’s good-if-not-great public support. But Trump isn’t interested enough in the contest, or in seizing power generally, to drag himself away from the fair to understand the key issues and data shaping the race.
And because of that, and his overall decline since the midterms, he hasn’t been able to steer the race toward a McCarthy or even Trumpier alternative.
No votes were cast after Trump reiterated his support for the man he calls “My Kevin”. Matt Gaetz’s lobbying to put Trump’s name in the nomination for speakership resulted in one vote (Mr. Gaetz of Florida).
“If they’re giving him a hand behind his back, that says a lot,” Rep. Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) argued about radicals rejecting Trump’s appeal. “Trump has a strong following in this party, but he is now one of many, I do not believe he is the only voice taking oxygen from the room.” (As for her own 2024 preferences, Wagner cited her former House aide from Kansas: “I’m a Pompeo kind of girl at this point.”)
What was striking, however, from spending the week talking to House Republicans in the Capitol, was that a different former Republican president’s name came up in conversations about party. This was what DeSantis said in his opening remarks on Tuesday.
Even as the party struggles to find itself, Reagan remains their North Star.
Rep. Mike Gallagher of Wisconsin (a leadership loyalist who gave one of McCarthy’s nomination speeches) and Rep. Dan Bishop of North Carolina (who nominated one of McCarthy’s challengers and is one of 20 defectors) As different as the Republican lawmakers brought to Reagan. A model without any pointers.
But when I reminded Bishop that Reagan was not available for the nomination in 2024, the North Carolinian could only smile.
Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND), though, wasn’t laughing when he reflected on this messy hiatus and the difficulties of keeping House Republicans together for the next two years.
Armstrong said of the speakership battle, “If we get past this, it’s just the beginning, not the end.”,
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