Voices: Who the hell wants to be a GOP speaker anyway?

On Wednesday, House Republicans gave themselves a half-victory when they nominated Majority Leader Steve Scalise to be speaker.

This came after a standoff between Mr Scalise, the number two in the House Republican conference who is a well-liked figure, and Rep Jim Jordan (R-OH), a right-wing firebrand and co-founder of the House Freedom Caucus. Former president Donald Trump had endorsed Mr Jordan, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who played a key role in Mr Trump’s attempts to oveturn the 2020 election.

This does not necessarily translate to Mr Scalise getting the gavel. Remember, that requires a majority of the House as a whole; not just a majority of the party. And given that Republicans have only 221 seats in a 435-seat House of Representatives with two vacancies, that means any nominee for speaker can only afford to lose four votes.

Indeed, Rep Ken Buck (R-CO), another member of the House Freedom Caucus, told reporters that he grilled Mr Jordan and Mr Scalise about who actually won the 2020 presidential election. And in frustration, he said he voted “present.” (Mr Buck, for those who forget, was one of the eight Republicans who voted to boot Kevin McCarthy).

But beyond the current fight, there is one question nobody is asking: Why in God’s name would any rational Republican member of Congress take the job? Any study of the most recent Republican speakers shows the job requires making promises that are impossible to keep and inevitably infuriating enough of the conference that you leave in disgrace.

It’s important to remember that Democrats controlled the House of Representatives for the majority of the 20th century. Indeed, from 1955 to 1995, Democrats never lost control of the majority until the 1994 midterms when Newt Gingrich led the Republican Revolution.

But Mr Gingrich left office in disgrace. Many people remember how he had an extramarital affair all while he ravenously pursued an impeachment trial of Bill Clinton. But his downfall actually came before then, when after the fallout from the Clinton impeachment, Republicans actually lost House seats in the 1998 midterm election. Before that, the House had lurched from crisis to crisis, including two government shutdowns.

Afterward, Republicans picked Bob Livingston before reports emerged that he had engaged in an extramarital affair, which led to Dennis Hastert taking the top job. Mr Hastert would serve from 1999 to 2007, when Democrats took control of the House for the first time in more than a decade.

In 2010, Republicans rode the Tea Party wave that largely came in response to anger during Barack Obama’s first term. In turn, John Boehner would take the gavel. He lasted a respectable five years, but the most right-wing voices in his conference – among them, Mr Jordan – often pressured him, making it nearly impossible for him to negotiate with the White House. In 2013, a handful of conservatives and Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) shut down the government in an attempt to defund Obamacare, something that never would have happened given Democratic control of the Senate.

Eventually, Mark Meadows, the future chief of staff to Mr Trump but then a congressman from North Carolina, filed a motion to vacate. While a vote never happened, it was enough to push Mr Boehner over the limit.

After bringing Pope Francis to address Congress, Mr Boehner called it a day and resigned. These days, he mostly spends his days lobbying for legal marijuana and posts pictures of himself fishing on social media.

That led to Mr McCarthy seeking the speakership before he prematurely dropped out. In a panic, the House coalesced around Paul Ryan, the doe-eyed Ways & Means chairman who often dazzled the Washington press corps with his seeming mastery of economic statistics.

But Mr Ryan’s tenure coincided with the rise of Trumpism, which firmly rejected Mr Ryan’s message of free trade, restricting entitlements and supporting immigration reform. Mr Ryan would pass massive tax cuts with Mr Trump and criminal justice reform but the legislation he shepherded to repeal Obamacare died in a spectacularly public fashion when the late John McCain delivered a dramatic 11th-hour thumbs-down vote.

Mr Ryan often feigned ignorance about Mr Trump’s worst impulses, telling reporters he hadn’t seen the president’s tweets before he finally called it quits in 2019.

Then, of course, there is Mr McCarthy, who tied himself in knots to please every faction of the House GOP conference, and went 15 rounds earlier this year before he got the gavel, only to face the ultimate humiliation of being booted last week.

Ironically, Republicans are largely unified in supporting tax cuts for the wealthiest earners, restricting immigration, prohibiting transgender people from participating in much of public life and imposing work requirements for recipients of social welfare programs. Republicans in the House are mostly split on tactics.

This differs wildly from Democrats, who are largely split about everything from foreign policy (as seen with the divergent responses to Hamas’ attack on Israel), how much money to spend at any given rate and solutions to climate change. But Democrats, particularly in the House, largely move as a unit. On Tuesday, they unanimously voted to nominate Hakeem Jeffries as speaker, just as they did in January.

Meanwhile, the slight disagreements in tactics can be enough to end a Republican speaker’s career. Indeed, Mr Hastert, the longest-serving Republican speaker, would only get his comeuppance after he left office when he went to prison for hush money payments he made related to child sexual abuse.