In late September, John Boehner, the Republican Speaker of the House, after years of battling Republican extremists in Congress, stunned the political world by announcing he was giving up that position and leaving Congress altogether at the end of October. 

Lee Daniels-001

Lee A. Daniels

A substantial segment of GOP officeholders in Congress and their echo chamber in the conservative movement publicly rejoiced. 

Then early this month, Boehner’s deputy, Kevin McCarthy, the House Majority Whip who had seemingly been the odds-on favorite to succeed Boehner, suddenly announced – pushed by some conservatives leaking rumors of a longtime affair with a female member of Congress –  that he wouldn’t seek the post. Again, a substantial number of conservatives inside and outside the House cheered. 

Amid the uproar, the name of Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan floated to the top of candidates for the Speaker’s post as a respected conservative who could end the embarrassing internal disarray. But almost immediately, Republican radicals and the conservative extremist echo chamber began deriding Ryan – the party’s 2012 nominee for vice president – as “too liberal.”  

As of this writing, the House Republican majority has yet to choose a candidate for the position that constitutionally stands third in line to the presidency – even as crises loom over a potential breach of the debt ceiling and the GOP’s threatening another government shutdown. 

One question this vicious infighting brings to the forefront is this: In years to come will scholars mark these last few weeks with the equivalent of an historian’s tombstone: “Here lies the Republican Party, 1856 – 2015”? 

It’s a fair question given that the holier-than-thou battles within the party about who’s a “real” conservative are being fully reflected out on the political hustings: The GOP presidential primary has thus far seen the majority of Republican voters vault to the top of the polls three candidates who’ve never held elective or appointive office and who make the looniest fact-free claims.    

The signs indicating the fracturing of the Republican Party have long been evident. In 2012, Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein, two veteran scholars of American politics, published a book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks, describing how the GOP had adopted the tactic of polarization and Congressional gridlock for its own gain. 

“The Republican Party,” they wrote, “has become an insurgent outlier – ideologically extreme; contemptuous of the inherited social and economic regime; scornful of compromise; unpersuaded by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition.”  

This month’s intra-party explosion should make several things even clearer.One is that the GOP is showing us how a real regime of “political correctness” operates. That those dirty words aren’t being applied to GOP internal squabbles, its policy positions and its legislative actions proves they’re just used to bash the progressive movement. 

Secondly, it’s also entirely clear that the GOP has become a party that can’t govern honestly, as we’ve seen in state legislature after state legislature where Republicans are in the majority, or effectively, as we see to a pitiable extent with the Republican majority in the Congress. 

Last week in an interview on BloombergView.com, Mann and Ornstein said, referencing their 2012 book, that “In most respects,” the political crisis gripping Congress now “is worse, which was, sadly, not unpredictable.” 

There are numerous reasons why the GOP has devolved from a “party” to a “cabal” that’s deliberately fostered a poisonous polarization and political gridlock. But the major cause is race – more specifically the rise of the Black vote as a crucial factor in American politics generally and especially in determining the outcome of presidential elections. 

We’re a long way from the 2000 Bush-Gore election, whose outcome had some predicting the Black vote’s importance at the national level was at an end. Instead, in voting terms, it has come to be the foundation on which the ballot-box edifice of the Democratic Party stands (and the harbinger, too, of the increasing importance of the Hispanic- and Asian-American vote). 

In 2012, the Black voter turnout percentage of 66 percent eclipsed that of Whites for the first time in presidential voting. And the GOP well knows that extraordinary performance didn’t simply stem from a desire to save Barack Obama’s presidency. It showed an increasing commitment among Blacks to participate in the political process – as well as being a deliberate response to GOP’s continuing campaign to suppress the Black vote. 

That determination is why the GOP and its operatives on the Supreme Court’s conservative bloc are intent on reconstructing in new ways the old Jim Crow barriers to the ballot box –  this time for the entire Democratic Party coalition. 

That’s just one of the political challenges those Americans who don’t support the GOP’s wrecking-ball war must confront with all the political discipline and pragmatism they can muster.   
Lee A. Daniels is a longtime journalist based in New York City. His essay, “Martin Luther King, Jr.: The Great Provocateur,” appears in Africa’s Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent (2014), published by Zed Books. His new collection of columns, Race Forward: Facing America’s Racial Divide in 2014, is available at www.amazon.com