After failing to ride the wave of Rom-mania in 2012, Paul Ryan will go to bed tonight as Speaker of the House. Once upon a time, this would have made him one of the most powerful people in DC, on a par with a Supreme Court justice or Sonny Jurgensen. As it is, since John Boehner gifted him a budget deal on the way out the door, his main job will be to mill about aimlessly and occasionally vote through some bills to try to make it tough on the Democrats in 2016, which is just as well, because the House Redneck Caucus seems bound and determined not to play nice with anyone, least of all their own party’s leadership.
You can blame this on the Tea Party if you like, or you can point to Sarah Palin as the wellspring of it all, or you can go back to Newt Gingrich and the predictable consequences of pairing a Southernized GOP Congress with an amiable dunce from Texas in the White House, or you can go all the way back to Lee Atwater running a Wallace campaign on behalf of a patrician New Englander with a Houston hotel suite. But really, it all goes back to Nixonland, and the explicit decision that the reactionary forces of 1964 could be combined with a rebellious South to build a new engine in the national GOP. This was the inevitable result of fifty years of nurturing the worst impulses of this country, and for the GOP establishment and its amen corner in the national press to suddenly look up and decry what’s happening to the Republican party is risible in the extreme. In the immortal words of Chris Rock, that tiger went tiger.
I mean, what did you expect? You spend years if not decades telling people to live in fear, that everyone to the left of John Kasich is Joe Stalin and that the government wants to grind them all into free meatloaf for Mexicans, that they are the true salt of the earth and their racist impulses are to be indulged rather than overcome…this is not an accident, this is not a fluke. The Tea Party is the GOP. This has been the Republican party for the last 20 years. This was the plan all along. This is a designed play. A vast plurality of ignorance, racism and outright stupid, providing automatic response in reaction to constant stimulus from TV, radio and a million “Fw:fw:fwd:FW:FW” emails isn’t a bug, it isn’t a feature, it’s the whole goddamn operating system.
The thing that scares me most isn’t the necks, it’s the people who look sorrowfully on the mess that’s made and still pull the GOP lever anyway. Sure, these hayseeds are all gun suckers who think the country is at risk of Sharia law from ACORN-organized illegal immigrants, but Al Gore is fat and Hollywood liberals are dumb, so vote Republican. That’s exactly how we got here, and it’s the biggest scare going into 2016: that the likes of Donald Trump could wind up in the White House because enough people realize he’s a loudmouthed business failure who spun an ego into reality stardom, but they’re tired of Hillary, so whatever. Meanwhile, we continue with the Republican primary clown show. There are 14 candidates still in play, not because they’re viable candidates in any way, but because there’s enough loose money floating around – not enough to run a viable campaign, but enough to keep your campaign bobbing along at 7% and build name recognition for an inevitable Fox News commentary job and book deal and speaking engagements. There are maybe three serious candidates, a couple of maybe-tweeners and not less than five outright grifters on the march (and the grifters have the top three spots at the moment. You can tell they’re grifters because the three of them combined have zero days experience in elected office and want you to believe that President of the United States is an entry-level job in politics.)
Then again, Paul Ryan managed to spin an unworkable budget that he never had to pass, a smattering of applause lines and four undignified months on the campaign trail into being only two heartbeats away from the Presidency rather than one. The hustle pays off, if you’re the hustler.