what is happening in Washington—the failure of the House of Representatives to elect a speaker on the first ballot—has only 15 times, Over the past few days, during Kevin McCarthy’s ongoing and increasingly genuine attempt to become Leader of the House, two particular failed votes have come a long way: the last one (1923) and the most drawn one (1856).

Beginning in 1855, ending in 1856, the House required 133 ballots To name a speaker, ousting Congress for months. Eventually, MPs agreed to select a speaker by plurality. If you think about the date, a failed vote makes sense contextually: the debate over the speaker mirrored the debate about the expansion of slavery into new territories. Four 15 of the failed votes in history occurred between 1847 and the start of the Civil War. The country was ostensibly at an impasse but in the process of falling apart over the central issue of American history.

Since the Civil War, this has happened only once in 1923. that vote failed because a group of progressive Midwestern Republicans initially refused to back the more conservative Republican Speaker of the House for re-election. In the 1920s, the Republican Party shifted to become Calvin Coolidge’s Party, and all that has to do with limited government, protectionism, and isolationism. But thinking about the time period in a broader sense, the standoff makes sense for the 1920s—a time when mass urbanization, technological innovation, and immigration transformed the country, and a period marked by strange alliances. Rise, which produced things like Prohibition, as well as racist backlash against black Americans and European immigrants. From the 1850s and 1920s, you can see the outline of a structure where fragmented operations of government probably reflect fragmented societies.

In 2023, Mr. McCarthy’s willingness to stand on the floor for failed vote after failed vote has a bizarre quality as a phenomenon on TV and Twitter. Nothing meaningful changed in three days (and counting). But the impasse and repetition are mesmerizing, operating in a space between institutional anxiety, dark comedy and some deeply human element, because the dynamics of this will to lose are so unusual. “We’re going to go out here and vote and nothing’s going to change,” Mr McCarthy told reporters Thursday morning. “What we’re doing is making really good progress and having conversations.”

The whole thing is like a hallucination. You can see a screenshot of the Republican staff email subject line on Twitter, “Cancelled: GRAB-N-GO Pizza & Salad” or watch Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez stands outside the Capitol with an arriving member of Congress and laughs as she talks about not knowing what to do. There are still no actual members of the House of Representatives, as under normal rules the winners of the November elections cannot be sworn in until they become speakers. Mr. McCarthy is operating from the Speaker’s office, even though he is not the Speaker.

In 20 years, will there be enough historical context for this that someone can watch it happen in 2023 and immediately understand why, the way we do now when we look at votes from the 1850s and 1920s?

You can say with certainty that this week’s fractured vote occurred during several unusually tumultuous years, and reflects just one fractured or fragmented country. Over the past decade, we’ve seen how hypothetical problems can quickly become existential problems. Epidemics happen; The people ransacked the Capitol; Millennial weather events happen all the time; Routine government procedures really fail.

You can find a reference to a split in the Republican Party at an inflection point between the Trump era and whatever follows, as some people feel that Donald Trump’s influence may be waning. The Trump era produced many of this week’s dissidents — like Representatives Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert. Under that framework, his staunch opposition to Mr. McCarthy could reflect either the real future of conservative politics — or, in the other direction, a kind of reflexive response to the prospect of declining influence.

Another, somewhat similar argument sees Mr. McCarthy’s vigorous opposition as the latest development of a Tea Party strategy that dominated politics in the early 2010s, when ideological squabbles over government spending and the Constitution disrupted government work. did, but it also became a major source. Fundraising and Promotion.

But the failed vote feels more about individuality, ambition and anarchy on some level. Mr. Trump has said that McCarthy opponents should make a deal and vote for Mr. McCarthy. But it hasn’t worked, suggesting that Trump’s biggest products have become a little alienated from Mr. Trump. Instead, the same loop has played out: those who oppose Mr. McCarthy oppose him, Republicans present a broken-video-game loop of lost votes, and Mr. McCarthy offers more and more. more concessions To be a speaker to a small group of people, possibly for a short time.

Some concessions are fairly neutral in outlook (eg change in rules It may bring more chaos but also a bargain for the appropriations process). but many of them are likely to be improvement Anti-McCarthy in roles with even more real government power, and thus causing ongoing disruption – even if most people don’t want out of Washington right now.

Politics can have a nihilistic edge, like the fundraising appeal we all get that the country is on the brink of apocalypse, no matter what is happening. You could argue that this kind of political nihilism is a broader context of the situation with the Republican Party right now: Mr. McCarthy made so many concessions to Mr. Trump for trying to keep the party together and become speaker that he ultimately had his work cut out for him. In some what some people want.

Or maybe the final reference is just that – for the time being, not yet over – we have entered a territory where the unbelievable happens. as Ms. Ocasio-Cortez Told of her House floor conversation with Republicans Tuesday night, “In chaos, anything is possible, especially in this era.”



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