As Crises Mount, Republicans Depart from Reality
Once the “party of ideas,” the GOP is now feckless, fractured, and lacking a shared vision.
THE REPUBLICANS WHO CONTROL the House of Representatives cannot respond to a new war waged against Israel. They have rejected new aid to support Ukraine in its defense against the Russian invasion. They have no plan to keep the government from shutting down on November 17 when funding next runs dry.
There is no path forward, as of now, to replace the House speaker they fired last week with a new one this week.
On Monday night, while House Republicans met to grumble with each other in the basement of the Capitol, their former colleague Will Hurd dropped out of the Republican presidential primary. Hurd was an outspoken Trump critic who stood before booing GOP voters months ago at a campaign event telling them the painful truth that Trump was “running to stay out of prison.” Yet he exited the race quietly, calling upon Republicans to find an “alternative candidate” to Trump, and endorsing Nikki Haley.
There is no path forward for Republicans in the presidential race either, where Trump dominates by an average of nearly 50 points in polls and most of the other Republican candidates refuse to run against him. Especially Haley.
Republicans are increasingly untethered from reality.
As they condemn Hamas, some GOP lawmakers are seeking to prioritize aid to Israel over continued support for Ukraine, despite Russia’s alliance with Iran, Hamas’s patron, and the victory for Vladimir Putin that American abandonment of Ukraine would represent. This issue is turning out to be one of the points of distinction between the two candidates vying for the speakership: Rep. Jim Jordan has said he will oppose additional funds for Ukraine; House Majority Leader Steve Scalise is understood to be a supporter of more Ukraine funding.
And while Republicans call for more resources and munitions for Israel, they have mostly remained silent about Sen. Tommy Tuberville’s blockade of more than 300 military promotions. The United States currently has no confirmed ambassador to Israel and numerous other Mideast nations. Republican Sens. J.D. Vance, Rand Paul, and Ted Cruz have also placed holds on multiple State Department nominees.
THE WAR IN ISRAEL will require new cooperation and terms for consensus that will scramble negotiations between Republicans and Democrats who control the Senate and the White House. National security would be harmed by a government shutdown. Our critical intelligence-gathering capabilities would be disrupted if Congress failed to renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act by the end of the year.
But throw a House GOP majority at these tasks, no matter who the next speaker is, and all of it will likely be infected by petty conference politics. Even veteran House Republicans have no idea how Scalise or Jordan gets through this.
Ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy admitted GOP-induced chaos has impaired Congress while one of our allies is under attack. He told Hugh Hewitt in an interview that the House could have acted immediately in response to the Israel crisis had he still been speaker. “We would have gotten more of the intel,” and they would have passed a resolution “to show the world we’re united, calling around to other world leaders to join on,” he said.
Some Republicans have said they want to renominate McCarthy for speaker because they say he is the only person who can “unite” the conference. But he never has. McCarthy, who needed Democratic votes to avert default in May and a government shutdown in September, cannot lead House Republicans. Nor will Scalise or Jordan be able to. Because they have no shared agenda. Nothing unites them.
Freshman Rep. Mike Lawler, who represents a district in New York that Biden won, told reporters last week that most rank and file Republicans are “angry” and “disgusted” that the House is without a speaker. “As I said, it is the single most destructive thing I’ve ever seen in politics. And it doesn’t even make sense.”
But Lawler’s colleagues in safe seats aren’t worried about helping Lawler and other frontliners win re-election, or about retaining the majority. They have no interest in governing. If being in the majority were important to them, they would be working to preserve it. Instead they are working to retain the motion to vacate—the rule that permitted them to dump McCarthy.
MEANWHILE, IN THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE, Republicans remain focused on candidates who have no hope of toppling Donald Trump and won’t even try.
Hurd’s journey, once out of the House GOP conference, from fierce Trump critic to yet another Republican ignoring the threat Trump poses is stunning. Hurd appears to have grown as numb as the Republicans he disagrees with. After their president helped plot a coup to steal an election, and then incited an insurrection, they won’t separate from Trump and are no longer trying hard to win anymore.
Hurd ran a campaign to stand his ground and send a message. He refused to sign the Republican National Committee pledge to support the nominee, since he’s sure that the nominee will be Trump. Yet on Monday he chose not to warn the party or the country about the danger of nominating Trump. Instead, in the announcement of his withdrawal, he said “If the Republican Party nominates Donald Trump or the various personalities jockeying to imitate his divisive, crass behavior, we will lose” (emphasis added). Polls showing Trump beating Biden invalidate this argument, but it remains the go-to for Republicans afraid to say “Trump can win and absolutely must be stopped.” Hurd just wimped out and threw his support to Haley because of her foreign policy chops, as if this were a competitive primary of some other cycle.
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It was particularly disturbing given that just the day before Haley had refused to condemn Trump’s call for Gen. Mark Milley’s execution for “treason,” which she merely called “irresponsible.”
Meanwhile Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are cohosting a gathering in Utah in the coming weeks where attendees wanting to stop Trump will hear from Haley, Mike Pence, Doug Burgum, and Chris Christie. A report in Axios quoted organizer Spencer Zwick saying the powerful funders coming to the event “don’t just accept that Donald Trump is the nominee,” and that “that’s not in their DNA.”
These are signs of denial, not of serious people wrestling with facts.
The Republicans running against Trump aren’t actually trying to stop him. And congressional Republicans are not trying to govern. For eight years Trump has demanded Republicans defend his every lie, every violated norm, every crime. And now battered Republicans are incapable or unwilling to carry out their responsibilities and respond to national security threats. They cannot be counted on to serve their constituents or their country, or to come to the aid of allies in desperate need of American leadership.
Trump and tribalism have incapacitated them.