I wrote a piece for the New York Times today breaking down Republicans’ three week demolition derby, what, if anything, the election of Mike Johnson solved (beyond a personnel problem of their own making), and the ongoing streak of win-win propositions engineered by the chaos caucus.
Taking a cue from Mr. Gaetz, the hard-liners have decided to take the win, at least for the time being. There are early signs that Mr. Johnson may be treated with a level of political grace not afforded to other hopefuls. Asked about a potential stopgap spending measure, the House Freedom Caucus chairman, Scott Perry, acknowledged as much to CNN’s Manu Raju. “It’s a different situation now. There was a trust factor with leadership last time,” Mr. Perry said. “I think you’re going to see a different viewpoint now.”
To the extent Mr. Johnson does find himself quickly in hot water, he can simply blame McCarthy and promise better outcomes in next year’s fiscal negotiations. But the underlying dynamics remain the same, as does the balance of power. While a narrow House majority offers negotiating leverage at the margin, anything that can become law must go through a Democratic-controlled Senate and be signed by President Biden. No hard-line tactics or clever strategies can compensate for the fact that Republicans need to win more elections to carry out their agenda.
Which is all to say that the continuing functioning of government requires the same leadership behavior that felled Mr. McCarthy and that as long as the wing of the party that precipitated this month’s bedlam maintains de facto veto power over the speaker and his ability to bring legislation to the floor, the incentives remain the same.
High-stakes tests are rapidly approaching, with a deadline on government funding and decisions about Ukraine and Israel aid, among other supplemental requests. Whatever happens, it will take bipartisan cooperation. And as long as modest bipartisan outcomes are enough to paralyze the legislative branch for weeks at a time, stability remains at the mercy of nihilist whims.
So where do we go from here?
Speaker Johnson comes in with more goodwill, credibility, and room to maneuver than we might have guessed three weeks ago simply by virtue of how the process played out. And that may be good enough to get him through the mid-November deadline unscathed.
But at some point there will come a need to do long term (and supplemental) funding, so eventually these issues will come to a head. Whatever becomes law will happen with significant Democratic support by definition, and beyond changing who sits in the big chair it’s not clear why the Problem Causers will look more kindly on bipartisan apostasy more kindly when it’s coming from a bona fide conservative.