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What the Fight for the Speakership Is Actually About

In 1910, the Republican Party was in crisis. Ray Stannard Baker posed the question, “Is the Republican Party Breaking Up?” in the pages of The American Magazine. Baker described a struggle between the “most unyielding of the Regulars” and those the party leaders dismissed as “a factional disturbance to be crushed out … mutineers.” Locked in mortal battle, the Republicans fractured in 1912, losing both the White House and the Congress to Democrats.

It would seem from watching the current maelstrom within the House Republican Conference that history is repeating itself. As Yogi Berra might have put it: “déjà vu all over again.”

“We should be fighting the Democrats—not the Republicans,” Tea Party leader Raúl Labrador declared. “We shouldn't be fighting each other.” But the rebellion against House Speaker John Boehner, the inability to legislate, and the unanticipated implosion of Kevin McCarthy all suggest a party wracked by division and self-doubt.

In both eras, a voluble faction crucial to the GOP retaining its majority status challenged the establishment’s domination. The minority—Tea Party today, or progressive a century ago—claimed to reflect the true desires of the electorate, and demanded a more substantive role in running the party.

In the 1970s, a similar situation unfolded. Then, liberals successfully challenged a conservative hierarchy that had stifled debate, obstructed legislation, and reduced Congress to what Senator Joseph Clark, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, termed “The Sapless Branch” of government. The liberal rebellion, which had begun in the mid-1950s, brought in waves of progressive members to the Democratic Caucus for nearly two decades. By 1975, the liberal faction had the votes to implement reforms promoted for years by groups including McCarthy’s Marauders and the Democratic Study Group. ...

Read entire article at The Atlantic