OPINION: The week MAGA broke the GOP

In three weeks, House Republicans have churned through then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and three separate attempts to replace him. The chaotic stretch continued this week with no leader, but death threats, intimidation and accusations of bullying and dishonesty. And that was just Republicans talking about each other.

By Friday afternoon, hard-liner U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan had lost three separate floor votes in his attempt to take over the caucus for MAGA hard-liners. He finally dropped out, but not before House Republicans revealed fissures so deep they showed they were incapable of leading themselves, let alone the country. And the House chaos is just one part of the story of the dysfunction of the Republicans right now.

Look closely at every level and you’ll see a shell of a political party, with members who don’t trust each other, don’t especially like each other and, as the past weeks on Capitol Hill have proved, simply cannot function at the moment.

At the presidential level, former President Donald Trump is the runaway favorite to win the GOP nomination in 2024. But he’s spent more time in courtrooms than debates this year. And here in Georgia, the state GOP is spending more money on legal bills for its leaders who backed Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election — more than $1 million — than party building for the grassroots. That’s left the governor and other leaders to create quasi-parties of their own, with turnout and messaging operations they can rely on instead.

By any definition, the Republican Party is broken, and it has its leader, Trump, to thank for it. It may be two parties now — the Before Trump Party and the After Trump Party — or it may not be a party at all.

The demise of the modern GOP is the logical end to a story whose main characters, including Trump and Jim Jordan, have been more focused on tearing institutions down rather than building them up, from Congress to the White House to the legal system. Jordan and Trump have also famously branded themselves as “fighters.” But there’s a big difference between fighting and winning, and Republicans are learning that the hard way.

The ugliness at the moment is most intense on Capitol Hill, where GOP House members are in a leaderless purgatory of incriminations and intimidations. With McCarthy ousted weeks ago and Majority Leader Steve Scalise falling short of the 217 votes he needed to become speaker last week, Trump’s pick of Jordan took his shot at the top.

But instead of the outreach and lobbying that is customary to marshal votes, Jordan’s allies activated far-right media to twist the arms of about 20 holdouts.

On One America News, which features ads for gold bars and My Pillows, anchors and guests told viewers that any resistance to Jordan for speaker was really resistance to Trump.

“You’ve got ‘Never Trumper’ people who just don’t like Jim,” said Dan Ball, an evening anchor. The reasons for opposing him “sound pretty damn petty. … Is this high school?”

On “Tipping Point with Kara McKinney,” McKinney told a guest it was time for “us Republicans” to install Jordan as speaker.

Her guest explained that the no votes are “just trying to squelch MAGA.” But she predicted that Jordan would win anyway.

“Well, I hope so,” McKinney said. “That’s what we’re praying for.”

Over on Fox News, a booker for Sean Hannity emailed House members to ask when they planned to support Jordan and reopen “The People’s House.” When a Republican shared the email with a reporter, Hannity hammered the Jordan opponents as a bunch of “little snowflakes.”

Newt Gingrich, who has been on the receiving end of a House coup himself, joined Hannity that night and called the eight Republicans who originally ousted McCarthy “Benedict Arnolds.” And he predicted that Jordan would win quickly, since his wrestling record in college had been 156-1. “He almost certainly will be elected on the second ballot,” Gingrich said.

But Jordan was not elected on the second ballot Thursday, and that’s when things really got ugly.

Georgia U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson voted for Jordan on the first ballot this week but against him on the second. In a statement after the fact, Ferguson said the threats and intimidation from the Jordan forces had backfired for him.

“The Republican conference does not need a bully as Speaker,” he wrote. Shortly after he cast his vote, GOP activists posted images of the congressman with captions such as “Despises the people.” Ferguson later said he and his family began receiving death threats and a guard was posted at his daughter’s school.

He was not the only House member to receive death threats from inside the GOP tent. And unfortunately, his story is not especially uncommon for anyone in Georgia who has been paying attention.

Republican state senators received death threats over the summer after their GOP colleague, state Sen. Colton Moore, ramped up a pressure campaign against them. He wanted to call a special legislative session to oust Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis for her prosecution of Trump. When the senators told him they didn’t have the votes, Moore published their phone numbers and fired up the outrage machine.

That came after the chaos following the 2020 elections, when Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, his family and everyone from poll workers to state senators got their own death threats for standing up to Trump’s attempt to overturn his loss here. Now that he’s under indictment in Georgia, Republican leaders only expect more of the same.

It’s not at all clear where Republicans go from here. A large portion of their party has replaced consensus with threats and swapped out leadership for volume. Intimidation is the new negotiation and, by the way, the Trump-aligned activists don’t seem too crazy about most of the people at the top anyway.

With no speaker candidates left to vote for at the moment, members went home for the weekend instead.

When reporters asked McCarthy whether the Republican conference is broken, he admitted what has been obvious all along. “We’re in a bad place right now. Yes.”