The Speaker vote was a disaster, but what’s to come should worry one even more.

Anyone who wasn’t certain just how dysfunctional American politics had become would have been woken up by the 15 ballots it took Kevin McCarthy to be elected Speaker of the House of Representatives.

America brags about being the world’s role model, always inclined to point out alleged flaws in the fabric of other (political) systems. However, every insurrection that occurs at the heart of the nation’s capital, America loses a piece of the mandate to dictate the norms for ideals, freedom and transparency.

American exceptionalism can only be so exceptional if the political system is irreversibly dysfunctional and paralysed, so much so that even a Speaker vote is turned into an embarrassment.

Worse yet, the McCarthy debacle was only a symptom of the nation’s malaise that will continue to erode the US’s two-party system in years to come.

For one, McCarthy has paid dearly for his speakership. The concessions he granted members of the Freedom Caucus, generally considered the most conservative and farthest-right bloc within the House Republican Conference, will make it almost impossible to bring the party in line. 

Even though the Freedom Caucus consists of only 54 of the 222 seats in the House Republican Conference, McCarthy is now entirely dependent on the goodwill of these members. Any House member can now submit a motion of no-confidence, which must be voted on, thereby making any attempt by McCarthy to come to terms with Democrats inconceivable.

Moreover, McCarthy has provided Freedom Caucus members with a blocking majority on the committee that sets the House’s agenda and key positions on committees. In essence, every single legislative proposal – the budget, Ukraine aid, economic programmes – depends on the Freedom Caucus saying yay or nay. 

How has it been possible that the once proud party of Lincoln and Reagan has reached a new apogee with the Speaker fiasco? 

As always, there is more than one answer to the complex questions. And yet, in this case, Donald Trump and the US media landscape play arguably the pivotal role. 

The cable news landscape plays a significant role in the US. Voters practically live in echo chambers, only consuming input reflecting their political beliefs. Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham have made a business model out of this proclivity. They have told conservative viewers that the party elites have been betraying the American people for years. It is a continuous polarisation where facts do not matter, and information is irrelevant. All that counts is to generate outrage and monetise it. 

The Metamorphosis

The fact that American democracy is eroding as a result seems nothing more than collateral damage for the perpetrators.

With entertainment having become more important than traditional goals of political achievements, needs and policies, conventional politicians are no longer what the base desires.

Trump used that space effectively. He reinvented norms and barriers of conduct and allowed a new class of politicians, once considered the fringe – to enter the party’s mainstream. They were loyal to him, generated significant publicity for the base and helped him to control much of what occurred in Congress on the Republican side of the aisle. 

But now, no longer living in the Oval Office but in Mar-O-Lago, those individuals have continued to gather momentum without him. As a result, the MAGA movement has taken on a life of its own – as seen when Trump failed to whip Freedom Caucus dissenters.

Herein, ironically, lies a big problem. When Trump was president, he could direct and dictate these forces. With his departure, however, he left a huge vacuum that has now been filled – albeit without any real leadership. 

It is a free for all right now, and the primary objective of members such as Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz or Marjorie Taylor Greene is solely to stay in office. They are simply not interested in policy-making. They are not interested in politics. Instead, they are in the content business, here to stoke and perpetuate outrage, monetise it and generate donations from the base – all made possible by the aforementioned conservative echo chamber’s narrative and Trump’s blueprint. 

As a reminder, the Freedom Caucus is not merely a group of conservatives. All opposed the January 6 investigation and voted against the certification of the 2020 election. Various members, such as Greene, have had a track record of pondering utterly egregious ideas. But McCarthy stood idly by, allowing these forces to metastasise. 

But the problem with sacrificing principles for power, McCarthy has learned the hard way, is that one often ends up with neither. 

At the same time, the whole party faces an identity crisis unprecedented in decades, with no unified agenda, clear leadership or shared vision for the country.

Instead, the party is locked in an intra-party war being run by fanatic forces more interested in tearing down the House of Representatives than rebuilding the party’s fundamentals, which failed in the last three national elections.

Ask yourself the following: what is the big idea that the party is politically pursuing at the moment? Can you not answer it? Do not worry, you are not alone, as there simply isn’t one.

Even in 1994, during Newt Gingrich’s speakership, often used to illustrate the origin of the radicalisation of the GOP, when he declared Democrats enemies and practically ceased bipartisan work, the party would conjure up substantive and coherent legislation.

Today, the party has limited itself to soundbites such as “Bidenflation”, “Fire Fauci”, or “where’s Hunter?”.

This lack of vision and messaging, the absence of detail, and the polemics reflect the lack of consensus among Republicans and the inability to develop and implement a political agenda. After all, there are Republicans in the House who are still interested in legislation but who are currently failing to counteract the radical forces. 

But this is where the topic of Trump comes full circle. It was he who took the party towards a spectacle, a political roadshow that fares well on Fox News and conservative social media but not in conventional politics. 

But besides the show, America is faced with real issues. In the face of the current crises in a two-party system, it is simply impossible to create change for the people when one party (the Democrats) appears haphazard while the other (the Republicans) is being held hostage by a movement of its own making.

With that said, this new “style” of politics is not an exclusive Republican issue. Various Democrats have also started turning legislation into a show. House members such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is considered the party’s progressive star, is arguably more active on Twitter than in the House. Moreover, Democrats are equally responsible for ushering in the culture wars that are tearing the American fabric apart and which have  opened a lane for Republicans to exploit “ideas” such as “defund the police” which are increasing the already existing division, and thus contribute to the system’s erosion.  

The Speaker vote was a disaster, but what’s to come should worry one even more.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

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Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of TRT World.

We welcome all pitches and submissions to TRT World Opinion – please send them via email, to

Source: TRT World