The House speaker crisis is part of the GOP’s identity crisis

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The immediate, unanswered question facing the US government is which Republican lawmaker can untie this knot, unite their party and reopen the House of Representatives.

The larger issue that may be even more difficult for Republicans to solve is figuring out what they even stand for at this point. Is it the party of limited government or the party that can’t figure out how to govern?

Tuesday marks three full weeks without a House speaker and 24 days until the government runs out of money, to say nothing of aid packages many lawmakers want for Israel and Ukraine.

No legislation can move until lawmakers select a speaker, and they’re way beyond a Goldilocks search for just the right candidate.

► A small minority was able to fire Rep. Kevin McCarthy (for being too willing to rely on Democrats to avoid a government shutdown).

► Rep. Steve Scalise ended his campaign early (he was too unwilling to make concessions to secure votes among holdouts).

► Rep. Jim Jordan failed despite an intense pressure campaign and former President Donald Trump’s blessing (he was incapable of convincing a small number of moderates).

Most Republicans voted for all three men as speaker, but the outside edges of the party were too big to get a majority.

The idea of Republicans and Democrats working together still has not gained momentum, and neither has giving some temporary power to the placeholder Speaker Pro Tempore Patrick McHenry.

Eight other Republicans are in the running ahead of Tuesday’s conference meeting to select a new speaker nominee, after making their cases to colleagues behind closed doors Monday evening. Pennsylvania Rep. Dan Meuser had also raised his hand but dropped out after making his speech at the speaker’s forum. The only current member of the House leadership pursuing the speaker’s gavel is Rep. Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the GOP whip.

CNN’s Stephen Collinson lays out the rest of the all-male candidate lineup, which doesn’t include any household names:

  • Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, who chairs the influential Republican Study Committee.
  • Jack Bergman of Michigan, a mainstream conservative and Marine veteran.
  • Austin Scott of Georgia, who launched a last-minute bid against Jordan last week but quickly dropped out.
  • Byron Donalds of Florida, a rising star Freedom Caucus member and one of the few Black Republicans in Congress.
  • Mike Johnson of Louisiana, the GOP conference vice chairman.
  • Pete Sessions of Texas, a congressional veteran who lost his seat in 2018 and soon returned to represent another one.
  • Gary Palmer of Alabama, who chairs the Republican Policy Committee.

The speaker’s forum was the GOP conference’s umpteenth gathering in recent weeks, and a wide variety of positions were expected to be on display, as CNN’s Dana Bash noted on “Inside Politics” when she sorted the candidates by some key recent votes.

Who supported certifying the 2020 election? Two of the eight candidates. A key moment for lawmakers came right after the January 6, 2021, insurrection, when they twice rejected objections to the 2020 election results. Only two of the current speaker candidates supported the 2020 election results: Emmer and Scott.

Who supports additional aid to Ukraine? Four of the eight candidates. The GOP’s drift away from support for Ukraine and toward a more nativist approach to foreign policy like that pushed by Trump has been swift. Still, most of the party recently voted with Democrats against a proposal to block security aid to Ukraine, including Emmer, Scott, Sessions and Bergman.

Who voted to avoid default on the national debt? Four of the eight candidates. Perhaps the most important accomplishment for McCarthy was avoiding a US default on national debt interest payments. But it was not a vote that got anywhere near unanimous Republican support.

Most Republicans in the House supported the deal to raise the debt ceiling until 2025, including Emmer, Scott, Bergman, and Johnson. Four of the current speaker candidates voted no, including Sessions. Three far-right candidates – Donalds, Hern and Palmer – voted against certifying the 2020 election, Ukraine aid and the debt default deal.

It’s easy to argue that the Republican Party has reoriented itself around Trump, who is the current favorite to be the party’s presidential candidate for the third straight election in 2024. But Trump’s power within the House GOP is limited. His support could not propel Jordan, for instance.

Former Rep. Liz Cheney – the Republican from Wyoming who was shunned by Republicans for taking part with Democrats in the committee that investigated the January 6 insurrection – told CNN’s Jake Tapper on Sunday that even though she is a committed conservative, her insistence on accepting election results means her endorsement would hurt any of the candidates.

“I think that really is a testament about where we are as a country today,” Cheney said, suggesting the GOP has lost its way.

“We have to have a party that gets back to advocating those conservative policies, gets back to embracing the Constitution,” Cheney said. “That is not what the Republican Party is doing today.”

Cheney said she is writing a book about how the GOP has evolved under Trump to where “people keep accepting behavior that they never would have accepted before.”

“It’s a cautionary tale, because it happened very easily that people said, we’re going to go with Trump instead of the Constitution,” Cheney said.

Meanwhile, the anger among Republicans is getting juvenile.

“This is junior high stuff,” Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas told Tapper last Friday, after Jordan failed to coalesce the party and lawmakers got heated in closed-door meetings and sniped at each other on social media.

This story has been updated with additional reporting.

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