“In yet another spasm of dysfunction, the batty House Republicans have now conspired to trash the very notion of sane governance…What we just witnessed was the most vivid example yet of the destructive power of Republican extremism… a party exhibiting all the cognitive sanity of a drunk driving into a tree.”

I wrote that. Eleven years ago.

Late in 2012, the looniest far-right House Republicans were plaguing their own Speaker, John Boehner, holding up a budget deal and threatening the government with financial ruin. One Republican strategist lamented on Twitter that Boehner’s thankless job was akin to “herding cats on crack.” I wrote that the extremists (back then, we called them tea partiers) were incapable “of acting in the public interest, accepting half a loaf for the greater good of governance.”

You get my drift. Everything old is new again, except worse. With the likes of Matt Gaetz and his hair now running the show, having just purged their own Speaker (a first in U.S. history), those tea party stalwarts of yesteryear look like statesmen.

You know things are uniquely dysfunctional when a dirtbag like Kevin McCarthy works overtime to run the MAGA playbook – kissing Trump’s rear after Jan. 6, voting to overturn the election, launching a fake impeachment probe of Joe Biden, indulging rank and file morons like Paul Gosar and Lauren Boebert – and it still wasn’t good enough for the House MAGAts.

Cue the Talking Heads song:

Hold tight, wait till the party’s over
Hold tight, we’re in for nasty weather
There has got to be a way
Burning down the house

This Republican abyss has been a long time coming – nearly 30 years in the making, back to when Newt Gingrich as a rookie Speaker introduced ideological confrontation as a party brand and forced a government shutdown in 1995. That’s when the nuttiest stuff started happening.

Newt led the House’s impeachment probe of President Clinton, and then, when he was outed as an adulterer and quit Congress, his anointed Speaker successor, Bob Livingston, was outed as the squire of multiple mistresses and chose to quit his seat, whereupon the Speaker job went to Dennis Hastert, who, after he left Congress, turned out to be a serial child molester and spent 15 months in the slammer.

Then came Speakers Boehner and Paul Ryan, both of whom ultimately quit the chamber because they could no longer abide the nutcases in their ranks. In Ryan’s case, the top nut was Trump.

(By the way, McCarthy sucked up to Trump after Jan. 6, but did Trump lift a finger to save him during the purge offensive? As if we need to ask.)

What happens next, post-McCarthy, is anyone’s guess. Who in their right mind (assuming there is such a person in that mindless bunch) would want to wield the Speaker’s gavel? It’s tempting to just kick back with popcorn and watch the spectacle. In the words of commentator Jason Linkins at The New Republic, “What Republicans are enduring can’t be solved by rational people appealing to better natures that don’t exist. The only way out is for the GOP to eat shit, every day, until their bellies are full.”

But full bellies aren’t likely to bring sufficient enlightenment to solve our most immediate woes – like the fact the government’s lights will go out in mid-November, and that financing for Ukraine’s war against Putin fascism dearly needs the federal money that Putin’s MAGA House allies are thwarting.

Gee, I don’t remember this kind of juvenile nihilism going on when Nancy Pelosi ran the House with a similarly thin majority. But if that’s what Republicans want to advertise about themselves – burning down the House, highlighting their inability to get things done – then perhaps that political malpractice can grease a Democratic takeover in 2024.

Here’s a quote from an Ohio Republican congressman, lamenting his party’s dysfunction: “It’s unbelievable, this is horrible, I’m angry. I’m sad for my friend the Speaker, and I’m sorry for the country. We deserve better.”

The guy said that in 2012.

Or, as Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest, “What’s past is prologue.”

Copyright 2023 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at dickpolman7@gmail.com.

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Author Credit

Cited by the Columbia Journalism Review website as one of the nation's top political scribes, and by ABC News' online political tip sheet as "one of the finest political journalists of his generation, " Dick Polman is the national political columnist at Philadlephia NPR affiliate WHYY, and has covered or chronicled every presidential campaign since 1988.

A Philadelphia resident, Dick roamed the country for most of his 22 years at The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has been blogging daily since 2006. He's currently on the full-time faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, as "Writer in Residence." He has been a frequent guest on C-SPAN, CNN, MSNBC, the BBC, and various NPR shows - most notably Philadelphia's "Radio Times" on WHYY-FM.

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