Now that the GOP’s Speakership fracas is behind us, a few thoughts. Yes, with a frightfully narrow majority margin, a handful of hardliners secured what they call concessions, but at what cost? This was not necessary and should all have been conducted behind closed doors. Democracy is ugly, but this is hardly a victory for mature leadership, or a sign of good things to come.
What did the 15-ballot drama win America? Nothing more than could have been secured quietly, thoughtfully behind closed doors – the chance to read bills 72 hours ahead, get a floor vote on term limits, vote to remove a speaker if a member raises the motion, assure accountability from a Republican leader to his caucus.
As for assuring the debt ceiling is not raised again or no two appropriations bills are ever combined, those are more complex issues, the quick win in words rather likely to breakdown in practice, and win minimal. What exactly did we showcase in this week from hell?
Republican members of the House have no idea how bad this Speakership mess looked – a prolonged, unnecessarily adolescent battle for Speaker. What Americans saw last week was NOT a group of principled conservatives, but a bunch of elbows and egos, no historical perspective, remarkable lack of political maturity.
When self-control was needed, a degree of intentional unity to address high stakes with low patience, and lead without national division, we got the reverse. To quote Patrick Henry, Republicans need to hang together, or they will surely hang separately. Yes, democracy is ugly, but …this was unnecessary.
What we saw last week, speaking candidly, was the worst display of party discipline, unity, and maturity within Republican ranks since 1923, betraying a misunderstanding of duty. Cutting to the chase, leadership is not about me-me-me, not about all being quarterback, fighting over who gets the hand off, carries the ball, and which direction to run. It is not about arguing about which play should be called, by whom, and who does the blocking. But that is what we saw, chaos.
Shredded for all the world to see, gleefully covered and replayed on television, live streaming for Presidents Putin of Russia, Xi of China, Raisi of Iran, and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un – not to mention our allies – was proof that neither party has their act together.
As America wrestles with a president who cannot find his way off a stage, a vice president who cannot find the border, and a Democrat Party that alternately takes pages from Lenin, Mao, and Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals,” the Republican Party tore its seams on national television.
What is supposed to happen – and with greater determination, wisdom, and commitment when the stakes are high and every vote counts – is that a leaders recognize unity is critical, trumps ego, posturing, and pretending 20 votes are 218. Policy disputes do not become principle.
What is supposed to happen is that internal disputes over what game, direction, position, and leadership formation holds after January 3rd – is decided well before a House Speaker is elected. Apparently a sizable chunk of the Republican House membership did not get the memo. Democrats – even in the minority – got their memo, watched Republicans divide, fumble, tackle each other, fall down, fuss, fume, and make look like they have no idea how to govern.
If all this sounds like the “messiness of democracy at work,” it is – but things need not be that messy. Americans do not have the luxury of watching self-important, oddly laughing, mulling members of Congress fiddle while Rome, or America, burns.
This is why there was no “red wave” in midterms, even with enormous frustration over political corruption, rampant egotism, shadiness in elections, cynicism, disillusionment, and leaders who ignore rank and file life. Average Americans do not want more ego, games, and posturing.
Even as America gave Republicans the Speaker’s gavel, we had to have a primetime food fight, show of how peacocks quarrel, feathers out, preening for show points, instead of doing the hard work of quietly uniting, pursuing obvious and shared objectives, because every day counts.
Even many conservatives were honestly aghast, watching Democrats crow, clap, raise money, and mock GOP division. At a time of urgency – over taxes, inflation, schools, jobs, the border, interest rates, energy, national security, COVID 2.0, and our Bill of Rights, those elected looked like everyone wanted to quarterback, run the show – lacked the humility for private agreement.
The shadow cast by last week’s House Republican temper tantrum, a public mud bowl, one that did not need to happen, and for which Republicans will pay dearly, is long. Personality-centric, me-me-me behavior does not play well in the Heartland, even when vehemently defended. Expect a scar – and maybe more – before 2024. The public expects maturity, not spleen.
What the fracas means immediately is that the GOP has to relearn unity. If democracy is messy, and it always is, the immediate impact of this messy display could be to embolden those who question us, want to hit America, cross the border in mass, take military action against allies.
Doing things that are unnecessary, egocentric, and unwise in public is seldom without consequences. The political and real world fallout of watching Republicans meltdown on international television is serious. It sent a cringeworthy message of disunity to the world.
Those involved in this Republican food fight for position, attention, and dominance – have it wrong. This is the wrong time, place, venue, and way to debate policy, process, or principle. Rather than understanding a Speakership is about compromise, they postured. America is at a crossroads, stakes high – and eating our own, running around in circles, is no way to lead.
Our adversaries have been refreshed, educated about our divisions, and emboldened by this display of raw emotion, while Democrats are aglow in self-congratulation. Sometimes leading means holding fire, powder dry, compromise, support, and patience. Somehow we have forgotten that. We better remember or this is going to be a long, difficult two years, maybe longer. Democracy is ugly, but … that was unnecessary.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.