The death of the US Republican Party with MAGA Mike Johnson as new Speaker of the House
BY MARTIN DAY
“The Republican Party, known to friends as “Gop”, aged 169, passed away after a long period of decline and increasingly severe ideological splits. A figure well-known, if not loved, by all, they sadly suffered from election-related delusions towards the end of their life. They are survived by a coterie of far-right and religious-extremist groups, and a liberal centre with whom the Republican Party was unfortunately estranged.”
So might read an obituary for the United States Republican Party, which after three tortured weeks has at last resolved the crisis in the House of Representatives by pulling the lever on its own execution. The party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt was finally finished off on October 25, when so-called party moderates voted en masse to elect a far-right, election-denying Christian fundamentalist to the post of Speaker of the House. What remains is little more than a hollowed-out extremist husk, a cargo cult to Trumpism and its quadruple-indicted idealogue.
It was almost impressive to behold the efficiency with which Republican lawmakers torpedoed their remaining goodwill with the American public. Having humiliated themselves driving face-first into a baseless impeachment inquiry against President Biden in September, it seems the only conclusion Congressmen could reach was to form a circular firing squad. Perhaps, like a 14th century doomsday cultist attempting to commune with Christ, so torn up by grief were they over their failure to fulfil Trump’s wishes that they resorted to a kind of political self-flagellation. Well, the public have certainly made their judgement clear: the monthly Congressional Approval Poll by Gallup on October 27 found public support had slumped to just 13% - the lowest since 2017.
The Republican Party now stumbles towards the 2024 Congressional elections with a working majority of just four, haemorrhaging donors and facing an incumbent Democratic Party totally united around Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries. To stand even a remote chance, the GOP needs an authority figure, a firm hand on the tiller to steer the party through the tempest ahead.
How unfortunate that instead they get Mike Johnson, a bookish 51-year-old with no experience in chairing a Congressional committee, let alone the entire House. He is, by Politico’s assessment, “the least experienced speaker elected in 140 years”. The blunt truth is that the only reason it is Johnson who won the gavel is that where mentioning his opponents would elicit a reaction of disgust, or perhaps a swear, the only reaction to Johnson amongst all his colleagues would be, “Who?”. In the first round of the GOP leadership contest, he attracted just 34 votes from his colleagues. And where former Speaker Kevin McCarthy has amassed $16 million in the third fundraising quarter this year alone, Johnson has raised a paltry $5.5 million in his entire eight-year career.
Johnson is an unknown entity nationally and in his own party, and the more that emerges of his past career, the grimmer the prospect of his speakership becomes. “MAGA Mike”, as Donald Trump has gleefully christened him, is a staunch opponent of gay rights, having attacked homosexuality as “inherently unnatural” in the 2000s and warned that legalising gay marriage would allow “a person to marry his pet”. More recently he has gone on-record in the House advocating doctors who provide abortions be sentenced to hard labour. In the build-up to the January 6th insurrection, Johnson was Trump’s key ally in unsuccessfully attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
As much as the NRCC now attempts to spin Johnson as “a leader, a reconciler, and a uniter”, it’s clear his ascent has marked the complete takeover of the Republican Party by the far-right. Matt Gaetz, the firebrand congressman who led the original ouster of Kevin McCarthy, phrased it better than anyone on the far-right broadcaster Real America’s Voice: “If you don't think that moving from Kevin McCarthy to MAGA Mike Johnson shows the ascendance of this movement and where the power in the Republican Party truly lies, then you're not paying attention.”
Johnson’s speakership heralds the beginning of a death-spiral for Republicans into ultra-right zealotry. And there is no one to stop them. Johnson’s rise involved climbing over the corpses of practically every member of the mainstream party establishment, who were annihilated in the leadership fight. Deputy Leader Steve Scalise and Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan, for months the two presumptive heirs, mutually destroyed each other’s careers samurai-style when it became clear they no longer had a chance at the top job. The third-in-line, Tom Emmer, mounted a campaign that lasted just four hours before he fell victim to what essentially amounted to a metaphorical drive-by shooting from Donald Trump, who castigated him as a “globalist RINO” (Republican In Name Only). As for former Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the fallen king himself, any expectations that he might stick around to guide the new prince appear off-the-mark. Having endorsed Jordan and then Emmer, and been burnt both times, the Californian Republican promptly skipped town, only appearing since at a speech to the Oxford Union on October 28.
Clearly, the old Establishment is dead – and with it, so too dies the Republican Party as anyone knew it. Abraham Lincoln would not recognise his brainchild today, as it lashes out wildly against Critical Race Theory, Cultural Marxism, and “gender ideology”. In the 2022 Midterms, the GOP held the prospect of a “Red Wave” landslide victory, and promptly burnt it chasing issues like abortion and trans rights that appealed to no one but themselves. Now, carried aloft by a deranged core voter base, far-right Republicans chase Donald Trump pied piper-like over the edge of an electoral cliff – and this new Republican Party will not survive the fall.
Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore