Whatever the outcome of the Republican contest for U.S. House Speaker – as of this writing, it had cast four ballots without electing anyone – it’s clear that a reckoning with the GOP’s dysfunction can’t be postponed much longer.

Kevin McCarthy had two months following the Nov. 8 election to line up enough votes to become speaker, his long-sought dream, and couldn’t do it – as became painfully evident on Tuesday.

McCarthy failed despite giving in to his detractors on almost every point, including a rules change allowing as few as five members to initiate a motion to “vacate the chair,” a process that led to the departure of one of his predecessors. In 2015, John Boehner was the first Speaker in more than a century to be forced out by his own party.

After McCarthy tried to succeed Boehner, he was forced to withdraw, among other things having stated publicly what Republicans usually said only privately – that the endless Benghazi investigations were intended primarily to weaken Hillary Clinton politically.

He helped persuade a reluctant Paul Ryan to take the job instead, and Ryan lasted four years, deciding not to seek reelection to avoid Boehner’s fate.

A party with a tenuous current House majority, with just four votes to spare, has forced out two speakers in a row, and humiliated McCarthy again. There’s no script for what happens next.


While Republicans have, somehow, controlled the House for 20 of the last 28 years, even their core voters may be running out of patience.

The contrast with outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi hardly needs pointing out. Though Pelosi was minority leader for eight years and Speaker for eight since 2006, no Democrat ever questioned her leadership, though a few – Maine’s Jared Golden among them – voted against her; his was a vote she could afford to lose.

Pelosi could claim a long string of substantive legislative achievements, and capped her career with a visit to Taiwan, showing the flag amid China’s saber-rattling, and inviting Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a dramatic appearance before a joint session of Congress.

Then she voluntarily laid down her gavel and saw a seamless transition to a new leader, Hakeem Jeffries – the top finisher in Tuesday’s Speaker balloting.

As if House Republicans didn’t have enough to deal with, one of the new members not yet sworn in was George Santos, a charismatic gay Republican from Long Island, one of four New York pickups that cemented a GOP majority.

It turns out Santos has been fabricating his biography since high school. Now 34, his lies only became larger during the campaign, misrepresenting his education, jobs and religious affiliation.


Santos seems to have believed, with Donald Trump, another erstwhile New Yorker, that you can literally say anything and get elected, but even with an ex-president, the lies are wearing thin.

Dissimulation was yet another tactic McCarthy thought he could get away with. After publicly denouncing Trump’s actions on January 6, saying he was “responsible” for the rioting, McCarthy made his way to Mar-a-Lago three weeks later to seek forgiveness.

Though many in the media and the permanent campaign infrastructure were confident 2022 would be Trump’s launch pad back to the White House, things are turning out rather differently, with indictments likelier than another nomination.

In that respect, what’s happened to would-be GOP caucus leaders isn’t surprising. To conventional thinking, it was impossible to be too far out if you were telegenic and had a consistent “message.”

Yet one of the loudest new House MAGA voices, Lauren Boebert, was re-elected by just 500 votes against a Democratic opponent whose entire platform was about being moderate.

The politics of excess and vituperation may finally be meeting their match in something called the reality principle.


In classic Freudian psychology, the reality principle represents the ego, opposed to the pleasure principle of the id. To live in society, Freud posited, the ego needs to control the id, or human institutions can’t function.

Without being reductive about it, it’s certainly possible that – especially among the House Republican caucus – we’re seeing the triumph of the id.

Over in the Senate, Mitch McConnell just became the longest-serving caucus leader, surpassing Mike Mansfield, who served 16 years from 1961-77, all of them as majority leader. McConnell hasn’t been as successful in holding the Senate, and hardly anyone seemed to notice his latest achievement.

Ultimately, the House will organize, and Republicans will try to carry out their program, which seems to consist primarily of investigations and disrupting the flow of Congressional business.

And in another two years, voters will decide whether to renew the lease.

Douglas Rooks, a Maine editor, commentator and reporter since 1984, is the author of three books, and is now researching the life and career of a U.S. Chief Justice. He welcomes comment at [email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: