The Capitol is seen in Washington, Thursday morning, July 31, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Why Republicans Can’t Fix Themselves

On Friday our own Matthew Cooper asked and answered Why Are Democrats Unified and Republicans in Chaos?

Today House Republicans will try once more to end the chaos and select a speaker among seven candidates. But even if they succeed, their party’s underlying philosophical rifts over spending levels, Ukraine aid, and shutdown tactics will likely remain.

I’ll offer my thoughts on why, but first, here’s what’s currently leading the Washington Monthly website:

  • Other Elections You’ll Want to FollowJoshua A. Douglas, the University of Kentucky law professor, spotlights the many election reform referendums on state and local ballots designed to strengthen, and weaken, democracy.
  • How America Bungled the Pandemic: Merrill Goozner, who writes the healthcare newsletter GoozNews, reviews the new book The Big Fail by Joe Nocera and Bethany McLean.

Reports from inside last night’s House Republican closed d0or speaker forum suggest the candidates were trying to find a way to paper over differences, not forthrightly resolve them.

One House member told The Messenger that the candidates were “very gingerly walking around” questions about keeping the government open and aiding Ukraine.

To be fair, a House speaker election is not the usual stage for bridging philosophical divides. Leadership contests are insider affairs, typically won on the strength of personal relationships, not the fervency of ideological exhortations.

There’s a better place for party members to hash out major differences and recalibrate ideological direction: presidential primaries.

Ronald Reagan blazed a conservative path for the GOP with his scrappy 1976 defeat and his dominant 1980 triumph. Bill Clinton charted a moderate course for the Democrats in the 1992 primary. Barack Obama reoriented Democratic foreign policy in 2008. Joe Biden in 2020 doused the youthful fire for democratic socialism.

But in 2024, Republicans can’t easily decide among themselves how to address today’s most pressing challenges because they aren’t having a real primary.

The rank-and-file circled the wagons around Donald Trump in the wake of his many indictments, with the acquiescence of most party leaders. Trump felt no pressure to participate in debates, and so he is not. The second- and third-tier candidates may be bickering over the finer points of Ukraine, the budget, and other matters, but few are listening.

As a result, the GOP has forfeited the opportunity for its voters to weigh in on how the party should approach the immediate challenges America faces. Trump is on a glidepath to the nomination, but without a mandate for Trumpism, or any other philosophical direction.

That helps explain why Trump’s endorsement of the like-minded Jim Jordan wasn’t nearly enough to forge a House GOP consensus for his speaker bid. A faction of Republicans wasn’t on board with what Jordan represents, and without an ideological mandate, Trump lacked the p to get them on board.

Perhaps fatigue will finally prompt a sufficient 217 House Republicans to fall in line behind the person who gets a majority within the Republican conference. Or, an inability to achieve consensus will force a bipartisan solution for re-opening the House.

Either way, the Republican Party will be philosophically broken, with no fix in sight.

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Bill Scher is political writer at the Washington Monthly. He is the host of the history podcast When America Worked and the cohost of the bipartisan online show and podcast The DMZ. Follow Bill on Twitter @BillScher.