The election of the new Speaker of the House, historically delayed to a 15th vote, was a huge missed opportunity for the country and for Democrats. As utterly embarrassing as the process was for Republicans, the reality is that Kevin McCarthy is now Speaker, and a very weakened one. Reality is also that a disproportionate amount of power now resides on a small number of right-wing Republican radicals.
Somewhere after the first or second day of voting, Democrats had two obvious opportunities. One was to vote ‘Present’ in large enough numbers, to allow (presumably after some negotiation) McCarthy’s election without the support of radical Republicans. The other was to nominate a moderate Republican (perhaps from outside the House, as suggested by Cohen and Frye) that could gather the support of all Democrats and just enough (six!) Republicans.
The first opportunity had, admittedly, major downsides. Mr. McCarthy lacks the moral compass (and, seemingly, the political acumen) that a House Speaker should have. His well-documented subservience to Mr. Trump is, alone, a disqualifying factor. His interest in bipartisanship seems low to non-existent. The upside, a possible bipartisan agreement for a functional House, would thus be tenuous at best, but at least the influence of the radical right-wing would have been tamed.
The second opportunity, though, could have been truly innovative and patriotic—perhaps even deeply transformative for the House and a divided country. Imagine a Speaker who, although conservative, was committed to working across the aisle, and with the Democratic Senate and US President. We could actually have a functional government, despite the current dysfunction of the party in majority in the House—and, optimistically, even that dysfunction could diminish as a consequence.
I am an independent, who sees a two-party system as woefully inadequate to represent the nuanced views of the American citizenry. But, for now, I would take two functioning parties over the aberrant dysfunction that the Republican party has created in recent years, and will likely just grow with the now-increased influence of right-wing radicals.
It pains me that the Democrats, the only adult in the room at the moment, have so easily forfeited the opportunity to elect a consensus-building Republican. I have no illusions that this would be easy, and it could ultimately prove impossible. But if long odds cannot be overcome for the good of the country, what are political savvy and skill for? And even if ultimately not successful, wouldn’t this be worth attempting, with the country as witness?
The US will, in the years to come, likely face major disruptions and threats from a radicalized House. That’s first and foremost on Republicans, and voters should unambiguously remember that in 2024. Yet, the newly appointed Democratic leadership should learn from a self-inflicted failure to be bold and historically transformative.
— Antonio Baptista