American politics hold few truly shocking moments. One came Thursday when Rep. Kevin McCarthy withdrew from the race for speaker of the House — a contest in which he was the presumptive winner.
Although the details behind McCarthy's shocking reversal remain unclear, it appears that he dropped out because of opposition from the right wing of the Republican Party. The 40 members of the Tea Party Patriots opposed McCarthy's moderate tone and threatened to sabotage his election, even if it meant throwing the race to a Democrat in the vote in the full House. The Tea Party crowd was willing to vote with the minority Democrats, presumably electing Nancy Pelosi speaker of the House, rather than allowing a moderate Republican (the folks they call RINOs — Republicans in Name Only) to become speaker.
In their convoluted thinking, it was better to have a liberal Democrat as speaker than to have a moderate Republican. They had to believe that a Speaker Pelosi would be better for conservative aims than a Speaker McCarthy.
The result is that the House of Representatives is in turmoil. Without an elected speaker, the House cannot effectively function (although you can argue that the House is not effectively functioning with John Boehner as speaker because he can't count on the votes of his own party, which holds a substantial majority). The Tea Party crowd forced Boehner's retirement as speaker. He just couldn't take it any more. Finding a Republican nominee for speaker may take weeks or longer. Who would satisfy the demands of the right wing and also have the capability of working with mainstream Republicans and even some Democrats to pass legislation and keep the federal government viable?
Perhaps it can't be done. Perhaps the Republicans have become so divided that they can no longer function as a single party. This could be a historic turning point in national politics. Perhaps the Tea Party Patriots should split from the GOP and form their own party.
It has happened before. The Republican Party itself was an offshoot of the Whig Party. There is no rule that only two major parties are allowed. That system has simply evolved. So long as the two parties would put national interest above partisan interests, the system worked, but lately all that has mattered in Washington has been the next election. Remember Mitch McConnell's proclamation that the primary goal of his Republican Senate was to deny Barak Obama a second term.
Congress has not passed a budget. A debt crisis that could cripple the economy lurks. A highway bill is needed to sustain road construction. Many other issues abound, but Congress is barricaded in an intra-party bloodbath.
Political parties have come and gone. There was the Federalist Party, the Anti-Masonic Party, the Free Soil Party, and the Know-Nothing Party. The Tea Party crowd could even think of bringing back that last name.