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Joe Manchin charted a better course for House GOP

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There are about two dozen House Republicans who, based on midterm results or the makeup of their districts, are likely to face tough re-election battles in 2024. Although those Republicans generally receive far less attention than the party’s anti-democratic hardliners – those who praise autocrats like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and spread former President Donald Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election – they potentially have far more weight.

That’s because moderate Republicans could undermine the GOP’s slim majority in the House by crossing the aisle to work with Democrats. Extremists, for all their bluster, have no such option.

The GOP’s narrow majority means moderate Republicans could use their influence to push centrist priorities that could help them with voters in 2024. But their influence will only be useful if they choose to take advantage of it. In recent years, the majority of House Republicans, fearful of being labeled Republicans in name only, have allowed the hardline fringe of the party represented by Marjorie Taylor Greene, Matt Gaetz and Jim Jordan to intimidate them.

It looks more and more like a risky electoral strategy. As we learned midterm, voters in tightly divided precincts tended to reject the antidemocratic leanings of candidates backed by former President Trump. In a tightly divided legislative chamber, any small group from the majority party can cause disruption by threatening to vote “no” on legislation. But only the relatively moderate group can offer — or threaten — constructive alternatives that involve finding common cause with some Democrats.

With control of Congress divided between the two parties, reaching bipartisan deals is also the only way Republicans can get anything done in the next Congress.

A major indication of the direction Republicans will choose will come on Jan. 3, when the House votes to elect the next speaker. Most House and Senate party leaders are chosen by internal party votes; Mitch McConnell, for example, has already been elected Minority Leader for the next Congress because he won a vote from Senate Republicans.

But thanks to a constitutional quirk, parties only nominate candidates for House Speaker, with the winner chosen in a vote by the full House, Republicans and Democrats. It is usually a formality; until recently, loyalty to the party required that each member of the majority party support the party’s candidate, thus ensuring his victory. But party loyalty to the vote for president has eroded over the past two decades, with handfuls of dissenters willing to vote “present” or for someone else.

The potential president must obtain a majority of the entire House to be elected. If Republicans end up controlling the House by a margin of 222 to 213, (1) five Republicans voting for someone other than Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy for president would mean no candidate would have the necessary 218 votes. for a majority. (2)

The GOP’s anti-democracy faction has used those calculations to pressure McCarthy for concessions, threatening to squander his chances unless he gives them everything they want. They apparently believe they’re in the driver’s seat; indeed, Kentucky Rep. Thomas Massie, a Tea Party supporter perhaps best known for delaying a vote on the original bipartisan pandemic relief bill in March 2020, has publicly expressed his desire for a smaller Republican majority on the idea that it would give him more influence.

It’s a logic Republican extremists have relied on for years, but its effectiveness depends on the willingness of the rest of the party to move forward.

But what if instead of allowing a small group of fringe figures to make the decisions, the party was forced to consider the influence of Republicans in vulnerable seats and others who resist being defined by Matt Gaetzes of the world? This faction, which may include some of New York State’s newly elected Republicans, may decide to take inspiration from Senator Joe Manchin and other relatively moderate Democrats, either crossing party lines in key votes or seeking to build a counter-centre. -the extreme two-party coalition.

On the Democratic side, Manchin had a big advantage that House Republicans lack in Democratic districts: The most ideologically extreme Democrats such as Bernie Sanders in the Senate and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the House are essentially pragmatic politicians who want to advance things and are ready to make deals to achieve what is possible. The Republican fringe of the House is more concerned with raising its media profile than with passing laws.

But it’s all the more reason for anyone who doesn’t want to be defined by the fringe to stand up to it from the start of the new Congress. Make it clear to McCarthy and every other presidential candidate what they want and show they’re willing to walk away — even to work with the Democrats — if they don’t get it.

Two weeks after the mid-term elections, we are witnessing the first tremors of resistance from some of these Republicans. But vague notions of wanting to appear less partisan will not suffice. If they are to use whatever leverage they may have, these Republicans will need to quickly determine what they are asking for, then fight for it, and be prepared for the fierce backlash they will face from the conservative media and , for that matter, of former President Trump.

But if they’re not willing to do that, they might as well make Marjorie Taylor Greene Speaker of the House right now and accept that they’d rather be bullied into insignificance.

More from Bloomberg Opinion:

• Can MAGA Republicans learn to love democracy again? : Francis Wilkinson

• Nancy Pelosi will be hard to follow: Matthew Yglesias

• Trump on the defensive for the first time in years: Ramesh Ponnuru

(1) This is the most likely margin at the time of writing, although a number of runs have yet to be called.

(2) Technically, McCarthy needs a majority for those voting for one person; those who vote “Present” or who do not vote at all do not count in determining the majority. So if five of the 222 Republicans vote Present, McCarthy would win, 217 to 213; if five vote for Kanye West, then the vote would be 217 to 213 to 5, no candidate would have a majority of 435 votes, and another vote would have to be called.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and politics. A former political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University, he wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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