Today’s and yesterday’s events were predictable, unbelievable and hilarious all at once. One increasingly common refrain from analysts and reporters is that the issue between Kevin McCarthy and his now-20-plus rebels is really personal. They don’t trust him, will never trust him. Perhaps. But this personalizing analysis ignores the larger dynamic that has been unfolding in the Republican Party for more than a decade. We might trace the roots of the present moment to Barry Goldwater, to Newt Gingrich, to the Tea Party, or to Donald Trump. But the key turning point here is 2008 and 2009 when the GOP ceased to function as a center-right party of government and became something more like the sectarian revanchist parties that have long existed on the margins of European parliamentary politics.
But the U.S. isn’t a parliamentary democracy. Its constitutional structure makes it all but inevitable that two coalitional parties will trade power back and forth. This shift in the GOP happened along with a deep fracture, and an inevitable one in an American context. The House Freedom Caucus was nominally formed in 2015. But it was an institutionalization of the Tea Party radicalism that had its roots in the shift from Republican to Democratic rule in 2008 and 2009.