Opinion: Republicans try to pick up the pieces

When House Republicans called in reporters late Tuesday night for an impromptu GOP pep rally on behalf of U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana — who won election as House speaker the next day — it signaled the end of a three-week self-induced political concussion for the Republican Party.

“Mike Johnson is a good man,” said U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, who fell short in his own bid for speaker. “I have full faith that he will lead our Congress and country in the right direction.”

Scott and others were still furious over why this happened in the first place, as eight GOP lawmakers kneecapped their own speaker, plunging Republicans into a fight in which they seemed incapable of governing.

Reporters didn’t need to turn to Democrats for nasty quotes — Republicans were providing those on an almost hourly basis about each other.

Republicans chose words like “embarrassing,” “ashamed” and “unacceptable” — along with phrases not fit for a newspaper — as this standoff created personal animosity among GOP lawmakers that may never be repaired.

So what did we learn?

The speaker-less episode certainly gave us new insight into where the Republican Party is heading. For example, this week there was seemingly more talk about the danger of same-sex marriage than economic policy.

For the ringleader of this revolt — U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. — his most important takeaway was getting candidates for speaker to agree to release internal security tapes from Jan. 6, which has nothing to do with the price of milk or the interest rate on your car loan.

The boos and jeers of GOP lawmakers — when a reporter tried to ask the new speaker a question about his actions on Jan. 6 — also provided more clarity about a party that remains under the spell of former President Donald Trump.

Speaking of Trump, we learned there are limits to his powers. Trump’s endorsement did not vault U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, to the post of speaker, but Trump did snuff out the candidacy of U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn.

The GOP chaos and dysfunction of the past few weeks was mind-boggling, especially when you realize that Democrats had the exact same margins in the last Congress — and yet Democrats passed major bill after major bill.

The new speaker won’t have much time to learn on the job. Government funding runs out Nov. 17. President Joe Biden is asking Congress to aid both Israel and Ukraine. And the GOP is way behind on next year’s spending bills.

The GOP tossed out Speaker Kevin McCarthy after less than nine months on the job. We’ll find out quickly whether Speaker Mike Johnson fares any better.

Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and Congress from Washington since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com.