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A look at the GOP Speaker crisis.
I hope you are all enjoying your weekend. This Jackal is coming to you later than normal because all of the insanity within the House had to play out first. I want to get into that, while also touching on some media criticism towards the end.
What just happened in the House?
This Jackal is supremely delayed. But it’s not my fault. In fact, I had written almost an entire post by Thursday night, because at that point it really seemed like we were getting close to the circus closing up and leaving town. The story then was that both Republicans and Democrats would move to empower the Speaker Pro Tempore - Patrick McHenry from North Carolina - to advance legislation to the floor of the House. It was a half-solution, but it was still a solution.
But then Jim Jordan happened, for the third time; on Friday morning he woke up and chose violence.1 He opened with a bizarre speech, in which he invoked the Wright Brothers and tried to claim them for Ohio, a not so subtle dig at McHenry’s residency in North Carolina. Jordan was basically saying: Forget McHenry, it’s going to be me. A few hours later, it was more than clear that it not only wouldn’t be Jordan, it would never be Jordan.
Why did Jordan fail?
I should eat some crow before we get into this section. I previously wrote that although Jordan was one of the favorites for Speaker, moderate Republicans might rebel:
I think with that, you have to assume that Jordan will get the gavel, but there is a chance the more moderate House Republicans refuse to vote for Jordan.
Jordan is a nutcase. He is currently co-leading a very poorly received impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden. He is extremely far to the right, even further than the median House Republican. He assisted Trump with his attempts to overturn the election. So, not the best face for a Party that wants to win in 2024.
On top of that, if Trump is the nominee that means the two faces of the Republican Party - in Congress and in the Executive - will be a guy who can legally be called a rapist and a guy who apparently turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse on Ohio State’s wrestling team. Not a great look for a Party that wants to win suburban women.
It seems like this is exactly what happened, which would have been a great and mucho successful prediction for the Jackal. Except, in private, I spoke with multiple people and was resigned to Jordan becoming Speaker. “It’s going to be Jordan,” I kept saying, and I wasn’t happy about it.
On the eve of the first vote, I already had a Jackal headline picked out: Pathetic, but Useful. I think if Jordan had become Speaker, it would have been a clarifying moment for the Republican Party: Giving that much power to a person who was intimately involved with the insurrection would have shown us how far the GOP has drifted from reason and common sense.
But I was wrong (in private), and Jordan lost. In fact, it wasn’t even close, thanks to the GOP moderates in the House. But it wasn’t just them; Jordan lost because:
Lots of Republicans were angry about the process, and how Matt Gaetz and the rest of the Hateful Eight™ basically blew up the House. Gaetz’s caucus - save Ken Buck - all wanted Jordan to be Speaker, and giving them Jordan would have been rewarding them for bad behavior.
Side note: Gaetz sent out a letter saying that all eight of the Republicans would accept censure if Jordan was elected Speaker, but Buck told the Press he never agreed to it. Gaetz sent it out anyway!
Jordan is one of the most extreme members of Congress. As many have pointed out this week, he has never co-sponsored a single piece of substantive legislation. That turned off a lot of the institutionalists, who do believe the House serves an actual purpose, as opposed to just being Fox News’ green room.
Jordan is also so extreme that he puts moderate House Republicans in jeopardy in 2024. It is safe to say that if Jordan had been elected Speaker, Republicans would have lost the House next year and all the gains they made in New York in 2022 would have been wiped out. Jordan was a dream candidate for Democrats.
People straight up do not like Jordan. In fact, the reason he kept losing more support after each round of voting was because more and more people felt comfortable expressing their discomfort with him being Speaker. Further evidence for this: Jordan lost a secret ballot by a huge margin, with 112 people voting against him.
So, there are still some good Republicans?
I will say this: It is super encouraging to me that there were a great number of Republicans who refused to vote for Jordan because he would not say Joe Biden actually won the 2020 election. This was a major sticking point for Ken Buck, so good for him.
The real truth is that Jordan does not actually believe Trump won the 2020 election. No one in Congress does, no matter what they say on TV. What Jordan was comfortable with in 2021 was overturning a legitimate election in order to keep Trump in power and - to flip this around - many members of Congress know this and don’t like it, no matter what they say on TV.
So, Jordan losing is extremely satisfying and, at the same time, somewhat encouraging. Maybe there are a few dashes of sanity left in the GOP after all, but it’s also possible that the anti-Jordan caucus is aware of political realities and wants to stay in power in 2024.
OK, then what happens next?
I honestly have no idea. It does seem clear to me that the House is not going to move to the right of Jordan, and will go with someone who is more moderate. I could see it being McHenry, but I could also see someone like Tom Emmer getting support. Austin Scott is another candidate.
Overall, there is a fundamental split within the GOP: There are sane, normal Republicans who do not want someone who tried to overturn the 2020 election to be put in such a high-level position. This is mostly a matter of principle, but Donald Trump pulling that person’s strings also has to be a factor.
For instance, Emmer is already being attacked by the pro-Trump crowd because he voted to certify the election. I imagine Scott will eventually get the same treatment. Overall, no one knows what’s going to happen. Will moderate Republicans work with Democrats to elect a compromise candidate, or even Hakeem Jeffries? If you had asked me a week ago, I would have said absolutely not, but anything is on the table now.
One thing I think we did learn from this episode is that the anti-government Party is really bad at governing. Here is Andrew Sullivan:
The leading candidate for the Speaker, who keeps running and keeps losing, is Jim Jordan, the apotheosis of Republican nihilism: he has passed no legislation in his time in office — zero! — and he was up to his neck in the attempt to overturn the last election and in the storming of the Capitol on January 6. He has launched investigations into every Trump prosecutor. His supporters have run intimidation campaigns, including death threats. He is entirely a negative, howling artifact of ideology.
So is his party. A party wedded to ideological abstractions, emotional hissy-fits, constitutional brinkmanship and a strongman candidate is not a conservative party. It is the anti-conservative party. Objecting to everything is objecting to nothing. Gerrymandering yourself into a homogeneous, minority cult only rewards ever more extremism. Obsessed with themselves, demanding the impossible, and risking everything for it: this is not a party that is in any way fit for government, and yet it is a party that is all but guaranteed huge sway because America is so polarized that extremists get away with anything.
I have plenty of issues with Democrats. They too have a hard time corralling their extremes. But they are capable of governing a democratic society according to the rules that such a society is built upon. The Republicans, quite simply, are not. Their candidate is a terrifying joke. Their party, as it has devolved into Bannonism, is a cancer on our democracy.
Sometimes he is right on the money.
One more thing.
Editor’s Note: This section did not go out in The Jackal’s original email.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the insane Washington Post piece on Jim Jordan, with a specific focus on his time working for Ohio State. One of Jordan’s longstanding issues is his tenure there, working for the university’s wrestling team. Jordan allegedly turned a blind eye towards the abuses of the team’s physician, Richard Strauss, and the Post’s details about this are disturbing:
It suddenly struck DiSabato that Strauss, like Nassar, had used his stature as a nationally respected figure in sports medicine to molest athletes. “He said two words. Finger. Vagina,” DiSabato recalled of Coleman. “And it triggered me. Wow, this is exactly what Strauss was doing. I just didn’t recognize before that what Strauss had done to us was sexual abuse.”
Looking for leverage against the most powerful institution in the state, DiSabato filed public records requests for documents regarding Strauss. He queried former teammates and other Buckeyes, amassing anecdotal evidence. One of the people he contacted was Jordan. He reached the congressman by phone and spent 45 minutes detailing how he was trying to get Ohio State to take responsibility for what had happened. By DiSabato’s account, Jordan listened silently, then concluded the call by saying, “Just keep me out of it” (my emphasis).
I will fully concede that while I was aware of this story and Jordan’s culpability, I didn’t realize how pusillanimous Jordan’s behavior was until reading this piece. It is long and will take up a lot of your time, but it’s worth it.
It also enraged me a bit, albeit indirectly. I went back and watched Jordan’s press conference from Friday morning, during which he highlighted his “favorite” Bible verse, 2 Timothy 4:7:
My favorite scripture versus, 2 Timothy 4:7. Paul is the old guy giving advice to the young guy, Timothy. And he says, "Fight the good fight, finish the course, keep the faith." And I tell folks I love that verse because of the action in it, because of the -- Americans aren't timid folks. They are people of action. And the words of that verse, "fight," "finish," "keep," I think it fits the American spirit. Americans expect their government to fight for them. They expect us to finish our work. And they expect us to keep faith when the principles and values that made us the greatest nation ever, made us the nation that could go from the Wright Brothers to Neil Armstrong. That's what we have to keep in mind. And that's the kind of attitude I think we've got to have. The quickest way to get all this working is to get a speaker elected. That's what I hope we can do today.
Leave aside the fact that Jordan cannot even quote his supposed “favorite” Bible verse correctly; the way he frames this is actually perverse. Here is the actual text of 2 Timothy 4:7, with its proper context (which starts around verse five):
As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry. For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.
Paul wasn’t the “old guy” giving Timothy advice; he was describing the journey of his own ministry. Paul was ready to die, after having been imprisoned for preaching the Gospel, and was telling Timothy to be ready to do the same. It has nothing to do with governing, and it is not a verse that is meant to puff a person up (Paul calls himself the worst of sinners in his other letters).
Jordan’s citation to this verse highlights his shallow understanding of Christianity while also serving as an indictment of the American evangelical church. If this is emblematic of the teaching in most churches, then it’s no wonder that (white) evangelicals are the group most likely to throw their support behind Donald Trump.
When I read the Bible, it doesn’t make me feel great about myself. Instead, I consistently feel humbled and convicted, finding myself begging for God’s grace. Our pastor said this to us on a Sunday many years ago: There are lot of churches preaching sermons that will leave the congregation feeling excited and energized, but in a church where the true Gospel is preached, the congregation will leave feeling joyous and thankful. That is because the Gospel is a repeated telling of how lost we are, while also a repeated telling of how saved we are, thanks to God’s grace.
I have been on this horse for a while, but Jordan - a man who turned a blind eye towards sexual abuse - misquoting the Bible to serve himself made me want to gallop into a full sprint.
Why did American media take Hamas at its word?
Earlier this week, a particularly troubling event unfolded in real time: Reports started flooding in that Israel had bombed a hospital in Gaza, and that 500 people had been killed. Headlines started blaring everywhere that Israel had bombed a hospital, and many Palestinians had died.
In the fog of war, lots of things get misreported. But the way the media ran with this story before verifying it was stunning to watch in real time. We now know that (almost certainly) the rocket came from within Gaza, and was fired by the Islamic Jihad (another terrorist group within Gaza, that often works alongside Hamas). We also know that the final body count was somewhere between eight and fifteen civilians, not 500. Insanity. Here is Noah Rothman:
And now, not 24 hours later, the story that they ran with looks to have been a lie. Worse, it was a lie that anyone with an elementary background understanding of the decades-old conflict in the Palestinian territories knew was likely to be a lie at the time. A survey of the evidence the Israeli government has presented to the public and submitted to the United States for its own independent review presents an uncomplicated version of events. Footage from multiple angles of the Gaza Strip shows at least one missile in an outgoing barrage directed toward Israel failing and descending back onto Gazan territory — hardly an uncommon occurrence given the unreliability of the artillery rockets deployed by terrorist outfits in the Strip. Israel Defense Forces have since released intercepted communications between Hamas terrorists confirming that one of Islamic Jihad’s errant rockets landed “on the right side of the al-Ma’amadani hospital.” Images of the site of the blast show no suggestions that high-power munitions were detonated there. Rather, they reveal a parking lot with various damaged vehicles but no cratering, no rubble, and no evidence of the hundreds of casualties the notoriously unreliable Gaza Health Ministry breathlessly retailed within just minutes of the blast.
It’s a significant media error that I want to highlight. In Rothman’s last sentence, he calls out the Gaza Health Ministry. I think American media often gets confused about how to accurately portray the Palestinian cause, which leads them to trust every entity within Palestine. The Gaza Health Ministry gets its information from Hamas. That is why they said (almost immediately) that 500 people had been killed in the blast: It was a number Hamas wanted the world to believe, before it was even possible to verify that many deaths.
I agree with President Biden when he says Palestinian civilians are good people. They are, and when you are actually able to poll them, around 72% of them in both Gaza and the West Bank say Israel is corrupt. Almost as many say they are willing to accept a two-state solution with Israel, and that they do not support Hamas’ violent attacks against Israel.
I have expressed lots of support for Palestinians in the Jackal, while also making arguments that Israel has the right - bordering on obligation - to un-alive every member of Hamas. The U.S. should fully support them in that effort. But American media has to be incredibly careful about the news they pull out of Gaza, and this was a seriously bad episode that will be remembered for a long time.
Please don’t take the above as me saying that Israel does nothing wrong. Amnesty International has a list of Israeli attacks in Gaza that have caused serious damage.
J.V. Last commends Biden’s efforts in Israel.
Charlie Sykes also has thoughts on the media’s mistakes in Israel.
Funnily enough, he probably had the same routine on January 6th.