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The bleak reality of a GOP midterms win is hard to process

We are not prepared for the MAGA-inspired madness a Republican-led 118th Congress would provide.

It is Election Day 2022, and I am not OK. I have not been OK for weeks. The same can likely be said of anyone who both a) thinks that Republicans’ reclaiming a majority in Congress is A Bad Thing overall and b) is misfortunate enough to have a media diet filled with “Democrats gripped with terror” punditry before the midterms.

If, as expected, the GOP takes the House and/or the Senate, the next two years will be a speed-run of the crises of the 2010s.

In the last week, I learned the word “hopium” (against my will, I might add) as a way to describe the somewhat desperate search among Democrats for good omens against a red wave. Pollsters freely admit that they have no idea what the heck is going to happen. Nate Silver is talking to himself.

I very much doubt, though, that any of us have fully grasped that a GOP-led 118th Congress would be like nothing the country has ever experienced. The political landscape waiting just over the horizon is set to be one of mind-numbing, gut-churning inanity, the kind that becomes a weariness seeping into your bones.

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It would be loud and infuriating and built upon an avalanche of cynical, time-wasting garbage. It would be two years of paralysis on the issues that matter the most, punctured only by self-destructive attempts to tear the country down in hope of rebuilding upon the ashes.

You may think I’m exaggerating. After all, most of you reading this lived through the tea party’s rise in 2010. We then somehow survived four years of Donald Trump in the White House. How could anything be worse than the previous decade of Republican-spawned chaos?

But I’m telling you: If, as expected, the GOP takes the House and/or the Senate, the next two years will be a speed-run of the crises of the 2010s. Yes, the tea party forced a clash between the old-guard Republican establishment and the more radical newcomers, but the party’s leadership, though besieged internally, still wanted to avoid seeming completely irrational.

Likewise, when Republicans controlled the White House and Congress early in the Trump era, there was at least some need to pretend to be able to govern. But any new majority in Congress would have the far-right, Trump-loyal wing of the party as its cornerstone. Its members resemble nothing less than the hellish offspring of a troll and a gremlin, expending energy on only two things: owning the libs and tearing the wings off the airplane while in flight.

The size of that potential majority — be it in one or both houses — wouldn’t give congressional Republicans the power to fully enact their agenda. If Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., becomes majority leader again, his litmus test — “will this be a strategic liability in future elections?” — will likely stop many of the more extreme measures that could pass the House. And Republicans wouldn’t have enough votes to overturn President Joe Biden’s veto. Their calls to slash spending on Medicare and Social Security would be for the most part (with one very important exception) blazing light with very little heat to match. Which, all things considered, is exactly what the GOP would prefer.

Freed from the weight of fulfilling any of their substantive promises — of which there are shockingly few — there would be nothing else to occupy Republicans more than focusing on so-called culture war issues. And this time around the Trumpists in Congress would have more than just microphones available to them — they would have gavels, giving them the power to set the agenda on the Hill.

The empty, vindictive and otherwise cruel hearings and investigations would make the Fast and Furious scandal, the IRS targeting to-do and the Benghazi Committee all look like child’s play. We would have hearings on C-SPAN about whether medical care for trans kids should be banned nationwide. White supremacists would be invited to testify about the harm that “critical race theory” would have on our schools. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., is reportedly up for a seat on the House Oversight Committee, an outrageously high-profile platform for someone stripped of committee assignments entirely for her conspiracy theory peddling. Hunter Biden could be forced testify under subpoena about his drug habit. A MAGA version of the House Jan. 6 committee could arise to downplay or spread debunked lies about the current committee’s findings.

The most intensely and bitterly partisan of these would likely be under the auspices of the House Judiciary Committee, with newly installed chair Jim Jordan, R-Ohio. Jordan, who came to Washington with the tea party wave, was the first chairman of the Freedom Caucus, which toppled Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, in 2015. He was one of the loudest voices in defense of Trump during his impeachment and a key congressional conspirator during the election reversal attempt after the 2020 presidential election. Jordan would waste little time trying to move forward with an impeachment inquiry against members of the Biden administration, up to and including Biden himself.

The empty, vindictive and otherwise cruel hearings and investigations would make the Fast and Furious scandal, the IRS targeting to-do and the Benghazi Committee all look like child’s play.

None of these hearings, though, would compare to the financial crisis Republicans have already announced they will trigger should they win. Talking Points Memo’s Josh Marshall reported last week that Senate Democrats are unlikely to raise the debt ceiling before the new Congress, even if the GOP wins control. This is the one area in which the GOP will have leverage next year, holding a gun to the head of the global economy in exchange for whatever ransom the most extreme members of its ranks are willing to demand.

When the GOP faced this situation in 2011 and 2013, Boehner was able to find a way to avoid the U.S.’s defaulting on its debts, though it cost him any lingering support from the tea party. His successor as speaker, Paul Ryan, R-Wis., cobbled together a deal in 2017 but only with the support of Democrats. He chose to resign rather than run for re-election the next year.

It would most likely be House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., calling the shots this time around. And McCarthy is no John Boehner. He’s not even a Paul Ryan. He’s a man whose quest to be well-liked has put him within grasp of the speaker’s gavel but with little to no actual control over his caucus — which has more zealots than Boehner or Ryan had to deal with. And should Republicans trigger a recession via debt default, you can bet that their response would be a new round of austerity, same as in the early 2010s, cutting the strings of the very safety net Americans would need to survive.

And looming over all of this will be Trump himself. It feels beyond masochistic to look ahead to the next election before the votes are even counted in the one before us. But there’s no choice in this case, not when every bit of outrage, every unchecked claim about voter fraud, every attempt to sabotage the U.S. economy will be done with his return to the White House in mind. Because it turns out the only lesson the GOP has learned from the Trump era is that embracing its worst instincts is a gateway to seizing power.

What’s really amazing is that the GOP isn’t hiding that this is the fate that awaits us. In fact, as Ezra Klein noted Monday, the party is proudly flaunting its plans and the ensuing “return to calamity.” Back in 2017, on the day Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, I fired off a quick tweet: “This is going to be the dumbest dystopia.” It has remained my pinned tweet ever since, its accuracy still unfaded.

Generally speaking, I hate making political predictions. In this instance, I would love to be wrong in any number of ways: wrong that the GOP will win the midterms, wrong that its agenda will be so damaging, wrong that the attempt to combat the waves of misinformation awaiting us will feel futile. But the truth is it feels like I was right five years ago. It feels like we’re on the cusp of entering a new phase in politics, one that would be considered farcical — if there were anything funny about it, that is.