A Republican House Divided, A Democracy Tested

America needs leaders, not bobblehead dolls.

By Kurt Loft

In the 1972 movie “The Candidate,’’ a lawyer named Bill McKay – played by Robert Redford − upsets an incumbent for a seat in the U.S. Senate. Taking his campaign manager aside during the victory celebration, a clueless McKay asks, “What do we do now?’’

Fast forward to 2023 and the political slaying of Kevin McCarthy by his own party. Moments after the House speaker’s inglorious removal, someone on the Republican side of the chamber shouts “Now what?’’

The film parody of shallow campaigns mirrors modern reality: A House divided − or more accurately, drawn and quartered − by a small group of insurgents, and one in particular. Just as important, the radical right is holding America hostage, and to what end?

“If you want to know what it looks like when democracy is in trouble, this is what it looks like,” Daniel Ziblatt, professor of government at Harvard University, told the Washington Post. “It should set off alarm bells that something is not right.”

A snapshot of a day in the life of the Republican party suggests something is not right. Matt Gaetz maliciously abusing his power; the House loosened from its moorings; and the leading GOP presidential candidate sitting in a New York courtroom on a civil fraud trial with a judge threatening to shove a gag order down his throat. Save these images for future reference.

If lies and deception are part of the extreme Republican dialect, then Gaetz is a polyglot. Some view him not as a public servant, but Lucifer in the form of a dashboard bobblehead doll.

“He shouldn’t be in the Republican party,’’ a blunt Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) told reporters after McCarthy’s takedown.

Seconding the motion, Dana Milbank in the Washington Post describes Gaetz as “more of a street thug than a legislator, and in his seven years in Congress, he has done nothing but tear things down.’’

Along with his cohorts in the ill-named Freedom Caucus, Gaetz is acting not as a promoter of positive change but a pugnacious belligerent despised by many of the 210 members of his own cloth who voted to keep McCarthey. The fracture can’t last without significant damage.

“He is a key figure in transforming the GOP into a monstrous political party,’’ notes Peter Wehner in the Atlantic Monthly, “one whose contempt for constitutional and democratic norms poses the greatest threat to the republic since the Civil War.’’

So, amid this turmoil, the Republicans must surely have a game plan going forward. They could not have hit bottom without a blueprint for progress, one that will reveal their promise of a better America.

It’s a concise plan, shocking in its brevity, and already laid out on the chamber floor:

Now what?’’

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