The latest Trump movement shows the GOP is over

The fact that any House Republicans are seriously considering Trump to replace McCarthy shows just how utterly broken the Republican party is

Noah Berlatsky
Thursday 05 October 2023 16:33 BST
Trump claims 'lots of people' have asked him to run for speaker after McCarthy ousted

Following the unsurprising but nonetheless ludicrous collapse of Kevin McCarthy’s House Speakership, GOP House members have been thrashing about trying to figure out how to replace him. Inevitably, some expected names have been floated. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, McCarthy’s number two, who has called himself “David Duke without the baggage,” is making a bid for the post. So is Ohio’s Jim Jordan, who has been accused of covering up sexual abuse while as assistant wrestling coach at Ohio State University.

Another more familiar name has also been put into contention. House Speakers do not technically have to be members of the House itself. And so, inevitably, some Republicans have suggested that former president and current leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump could serve as Speaker. Troy Nehls of Texas has promised to officially nominate him. Trump himself said he’d be open to the idea, which means that a Trump speakership is a real, if remote, possibility.

The fact that any House Republicans are seriously considering Trump to replace McCarthy shows just how utterly broken the Republican party is. Political parties are supposed to be collective endeavors, in which many politicians, interest groups, activists, and voters work together towards shared policy goals. Instead, the GOP is devolving from a democratic party into an authoritarian shell whose answer to every problem is “Trump!”

There are a range of reasons that Trump is unfit for House Speaker; many of them are the same as the reasons that he is unfit for president. Trump lies compulsively and constantly; House Speakers need to be trusted by both their conference and the opposition if they’re going to be able to make deals and legislate (Kevin McCarthy was, notoriously, untrustworthy.)

Even more damning, Trump instigated an insurrection in an effort to overthrow his 2020 election loss, leading to an assault on the Capitol. Members of Congress were directly threatened. Insurrectionists should not hold positions of public trust, whether that position is President or Speaker of the House.

In addition to Trump’s individual failures of character, it’s simply preposterous to suggest that someone who is running for President should also take on the task of Speaker of the House. As a simple matter of logistics, the Speaker of the House has to be in Washington; it’s a job that is about in-person networking and collaboration. You have to be there for votes.

Trump is currently facing four major federal trials as well as civil cases; appearing in court is at this point his full-time job. Even if that weren’t the case, though, running for president means you have to campaign across the country. It’s not an accident that no sitting Speaker has ever run successfully for president (James K Polk is the only former Speaker to ever win the White House). You can’t be in Washington DC and stumping around Iowa at the same time.

More, the temperament of a good Speaker and a good President are completely different. Presidents are supposed to gauge the public mood and cater to it. Speakers need to be popular with their conference, not with the public.

In fact, Speakers are in many cases supposed to take the blame for unpopular votes or positions in order to provide cover for vulnerable members. Nancy Pelosi, arguably the most successful House Speaker in history, was extremely unpopular during her tenure, with an approval rating of 31 percent in 2021. For a president, that would be catastrophic. For a Speaker, it’s just a sign that they’re doing their job.

Trump’s a self-obsessed narcissist and would never sacrifice his own interests to those of the caucus as a whole. But no Presidential candidate is going to want to do what you need to do as a Speaker. Speakers have to make ugly compromise votes which inevitably disappoint some constituents. They have to irritate the base to preserve swing seats. Candidates want to avoid controversial topics and pretend that they can deliver everything to everyone. Just about everything you have to do as Speaker would be a huge liability on the campaign trail. The two positions are irreconcilable.

Yet, some GOP Congresspeople, and Trump himself, are willing to try to reconcile them. That’s because they’re foolish. But it’s also because the GOP is increasingly unmoored from democratic incentives or accountability. If you were trying to serve the public, you would never suggest Trump for Speaker of the House. But the GOP increasingly sees high office less as a public trust, and more as a means of glorifying the office-holder – especially if that office holder is named Trump.

The GOP dreams of Trump holding every lever of power, magically concentrating all offices within himself. That’s not democracy. It’s authoritarianism. If you put yourself forward for House Speaker and President at the same time, it’s a strong indication that you are fit for neither post.

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