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What to expect from a GOP-controlled House

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) returns to his office following a day of votes for the new Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol on January 04, 2023 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives will continue to try and elect the next Speaker after McCarthy failed to earn more than 218 votes on six ballots over two days, the first time in 100 years that the Speaker was not elected on the first ballot. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) returns to his office following a day of votes for the new Speaker of the House at the U.S. Capitol on January 04, 2023 in Washington, DC. The House of Representatives will continue to try and elect the next Speaker after McCarthy failed to earn more than 218 votes on six ballots over two days, the first time in 100 years that the Speaker was not elected on the first ballot. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

The GOP has taken back the House.

But with a fractious caucus, and an ascendant far-right wing, how will Republicans run the House and what do they want to achieve in the new Congress?

Today, On Point: The GOP, and its plans in the new Congress.


Sarah Longwell, executive director of the Republican Accountability Project. Publisher of The Bulwark and host of the podcast “The Focus Group.” (@SarahLongwell25)

Interview Highlights

On the message the extreme faction of the GOP in the House is putting out to the public

Sarah Longwell: “I talk about the forces that Donald Trump unleashed on the party. … What these guys have learned as a lesson is that just sowing chaos in the face of governance is actually something that there is an appetite for among Republican base voters. And I hear this all the time, and it’s embedded sort of deeply in who the Republican Party is. And there’s a healthy manifestation of this, where people talk about limited government and, you know, local control and finding ways to keep the government from becoming sort of an overbearing force in people’s life. That’s a healthy way of discussing it.

“In their version, it is just chaos, shutting things down, seeing the government can’t function. And this is why Kevin McCarthy has such a tough problem on his hands, because they don’t have a set of clear goals. They don’t have things that they want to achieve. They’re arguing over things like rules because it’s actually about their power. And the power that they want is to be able to ensure that governance can’t happen. They want to be able to shut things down. You know, one of the things that’s taking place is that Kevin McCarthy, he’s so desperate to become the speaker that he keeps making more and more concessions. And with every concession, he actually weakens his ultimate ability.

“If he ultimately prevails, he weakens his ability to do any kind of governing. I mean, it sounds like the deal they’ve reached potentially means that any one member of Congress could have a motion to vacate that could sort of challenge him. … And they’re asking for major committee assignments. This is about them understanding that by simply saying no, by sowing chaos, that they can get things that they want, that they can get notoriety, that they can have a role in this right-wing media ecosystem, they can become more famous and that there is a base of voters who will applaud them for it. They’re all fundraising off of this.

“And so, you know, it’s funny, I’ve been watching some people kind of frame it as though there’s a sort of moderate faction and an extreme faction. … But that’s not quite right, because, you know, what Kevin McCarthy has already said is that what he’ll do is launch a lot of investigations. And, you know, it’s not like they’re talking about a lot of good governance, but this small faction, it’s just pure chaos, wanting to shut things down.”

On what Republicans have said in focus groups 

Sarah Longwell: “I haven’t done any focus groups since in the last couple of days. So I don’t know how people are reacting to this specifically. But I have done hundreds of groups now over the last few years. And one of the things that I can tell you is that to the extent that Republican voters know who Kevin McCarthy is, especially people who are big at Trump voters, they don’t like Kevin McCarthy. In fact, they talk about him in extremely unflattering terms. I remember there was a guy who just kept calling him garbage over and over again.

” … There’s a big part of the base that actually likes to be against the establishment Republicans. … They dislike Mitch McConnell, and they dislike Kevin McCarthy. And what they liked about Donald Trump is that Donald Trump was going to come in and break these guys. And that’s sort of the great irony, actually, in everything that’s happening now, which is that there’s kind of formed a MAGA establishment that includes Kevin McCarthy where Trump has endorsed McCarthy. But this other holdout group, even though Trump the man doesn’t have control over them, isn’t able to kind of get them on board.

“He did unleash certain forces that they’ve internalized and that they now embody, which is how do you sow chaos? How do you burn it all down? How do you use sort of a plurality, or how do you use the fact that there’s an appetite among voters for this chaos? To build a brand around.

” … It’s not like the Republican voters, or the Trump voters especially sit around being like, you know what, I really want to see as good governance or, you know, that’s just not how they talk. What they want is they want a fighter. They want somebody who goes after the establishment. They talk about rhinos a lot. That’s something that’s really been burned into the lexicon. This idea that there is a part of the party that is in cahoots with the Democrats and that you have to break that up. You have to you have to defeat that.

“And so Kevin McCarthy represents that to voters. And so my guess is, is that the reason that Matt Gaetz feels very empowered in this moment is that they know there is a decent chunk of the Republican base that is on board with what they’re doing.”

What is the triangle of doom?

Sarah Longwell: “The Republican Triangle of doom is the toxic and symbiotic relationship between the right-wing infotainment, media, Republican voters and Republican legislators. So, because the right over the last 30 years has really built up its own media ecosystem. That has created this radicalization process, and I’ll give you an example. So right after the 2020 election, not lots of people didn’t think that the 2020 election was stolen. In the immediate aftermath, Donald Trump was saying that it was stolen and then the right-wing media ecosystem picked up this idea that it was stolen. And voters started to believe, like base voters also wanted to like this idea it was stolen. They couldn’t possibly lose. It had to have been stolen. And they believe the president.

“And then ultimately then they started saying to, you know, legislators saw where their voters were going, saw where the right-wing media ecosystem was going. And so they felt the need to say, yeah, boy, those results are suspicious. And I think that the election was stolen. And that creates another loop where people who didn’t before think it was stolen now say, well, boy, my congressman is saying that the election was stolen, or my senator saying the election was stolen. And before you know, it, it goes from sort of the Newsmax owned world into Fox News world.

“And over time, then you end up with 70% of the Republican Party believing that an election was stolen. And so the Republican Triangle of doom is really about a radicalization process. But it’s been interesting watching Fox News, because I would say in the Trump years, they were basically all part of the same sort of the same team. And now they’re breaking into factions between, again, the burn it all down side, and the side that wants power.

” … I guess both sides want power, but the one that wants governing power. Like one side just wants power by sort of being able to tie things up. The other side wants power by actually being able to govern and do things. And so Sean Hannity siding with that side of power, Tucker’s siding with the burn it all down side of power. And both have purchase within the current Republican Party. That’s the fight. That’s the battle.”

On how to break that triangle

Sarah Longwell: “I’m not sure you can break it. I think maybe you can shrink it. And look, my solution has long been there’s two things that need to happen. One, this reversion of the Republican Party needs to suffer sustained electoral defeats. And that’s been happening, where people are just consistently rejecting this Trumpier MAGA version of the Republican Party. Swing voters don’t want it.

“But then the other thing is, at some point you’re going to need leadership. And it’s going to take leadership to solve this problem. And I would like to see a new generation emerge. That kind of is an answer to this Trump moment. Where people say, we’re putting that behind us and we are going to get back to ideas of limited government, fiscal responsibility, but we’re going to be responsible. You can trust us. We’re not just chaos agents.”

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

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