The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, October 5, 2023

It’s Thursday, October 5, 2023.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

We Have Entered Uncharted Territory: The Republican Crisis in the House Raises Big Issues of Rules, Leadership, and Governance in a Social Media Age

The word unprecedented is overused in the media and national conversation, in politics, you name it, but in reference to what took place Tuesday in the United States House of Representatives, it was truly unprecedented. There is no precedent for a single member of the house to bring emotion to declare the speakership vacant and for a majority, in this case, a very thin majority, but still a majority, to remove a sitting speaker from that office. You asked the question, how do speakers generally leave the office is by losing the support of their own caucus in an overwhelming manner. You’ve seen that happen even in recent years, especially on the Republican side, or you have a speaker who dies or you have an election in which there’s a shift in the party majority, so you have a shift from one party to the other in terms of the Speaker of the House.

Now, just to remind yourself, the speaker of the house is a constitutional role. This is not just as is so often the case in the Senate where you have precedent and rules adopted by the Senate. In the case of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, this is one of the most important constitutional offices and it is mandated by the Constitution of the United States of America. Over the course of congressional history, there have been some very controversial, there’ve been some very powerful speakers of the house.

There have been some who’ve been considered successes and others who’ve been considered failures, but you really are looking at something remarkable when in the course of the 2022 elections, Republicans gained a very thin majority in the house. It then took multiple rounds of election in order to finally elect one of their own, Kevin McCarthy of California as the speaker, and it turns out he will serve only about eight months in that role. And just to cut to the quick on this one, Representative McCarthy as he is now known, has announced that he will not be a candidate in future rounds and an honest assessment means we simply don’t know who might be a plausible candidate for this important constitutional role at the moment.

So let’s just understand we’re looking at math. You had eight Republicans who voted with Democrats to remove the speaker of the House and declare the position vacant. On the other hand, the House of Representatives of the United States of America cannot function without someone fulfilling the role of the speaker, and in this case, the rules allow for the election of a speaker pro tempore or a temporary speaker that’s actually off of a list provided by the speaker, but that’s usually been a provision in which there is a provision put in place in the case that a speaker might be incapacitated, but once again, we’re in uncharted territory. In this case, the speaker has been removed.

Now there is a huge problem facing Republicans in the House of Representatives and in one sense is a larger problem and it’s indeed a more comprehensive parable of American government and our experiment and a constitutional form of government and we’re really looking at some very big and now unavoidable questions. One of the most practical questions is where in the world, the Republican majority in the House goes from here. Just understand the math, removing a sitting speaker, something that has never happened before in the history of the United States House of Representatives, it required all the Democrats to vote against the speaker. Well, once the question was raised, you can pretty much count on that, but then you had eight Republicans versus 210 who voted the other way. Now you can do the math and understand this means just less than 4% of the Republican caucus in the House, effectively cut off the Republican leadership at the top.

Where does the party go from here? It’s a question most urgently of the Republican caucus. That is to say the combined Republican members of the House of Representatives as they have to negotiate together, who would be the obvious candidate? Well, at this point, I think it’s fair to say there is no obvious candidate. Kevin McCarthy was a compromised candidate from the beginning. As is usually the case when a caucus picks a leader, but in this case, you’re looking at a caucus that isn’t functioning like a caucus. This is something new in Republican politics. You’re looking at the fact that an insurgency from the right, I didn’t say a conservative insurgency, it’s not conservative, but it is decidedly from the right. This insurgency including Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, he’s the one who brought the motion. It once mayhem in the House of Representatives. It would rather have no leadership than have leadership that it considers to have compromised with Democrats.

But here’s where Republicans are simply lacking a good bit of honesty. The honesty is this: the numbers aren’t adding up. The Republican majority in the house is so thin that you’re not going to have someone who would please most of those eight who voted against Speaker McCarthy and it’s hard to imagine who might please them other than a member of their own group, but you can do the math on that. It was eight Republicans voting one way, 210 voting the other. Well, eight may join with 208 in order to outnumber 210 Republicans, but once you get Republicans in the room, eight versus 210 is not even close. The problem is it does take a majority of those voting to elect a speaker of the House of Representatives.

Now remember when Kevin McCarthy was elected, the house had to go through multiple rounds more than a dozen rounds in order to eventually elect a speaker. Now republicans are even more divided. How exactly do they intend to move forward? This is a basic question of governance. Those of us who are clearly conservative and want to see a conservative agenda and a conservative leadership in the House of Representatives, well, the math simply is unavoidable. That is also a key conservative insight. Math matters. When you’re looking at 435 seats in the House and you are looking at the minuscule margin of the Republican majority, you have to understand that if Republicans split as they did just this week in deposing a speaker of the House of Representatives, there is no clear path forward.

And this is a huge problem for American constitutional governance. It’s a huge crisis for the House of Representatives, but in this case, it’s not a bipartisan crisis. Democrats of course have their own agenda and right now the opposition party is more or less unified. They’re unified for two reasons, just in worldview analysis we need to understand. One is when you’re in a minority position in a body like the U.S. House of Representatives, you don’t bear any responsibility for setting the agenda of the body. So you can pretty much just be for or against anything your leadership tells you to be for or respectively against.

So it’s easy right now for the Democrats to hang together because they’re basically defined by being out of power and having a common enemy. The other thing to note is that when you have a system like this, the big arguments are always going to be found in the side that has the majority, but that puts at risk the very majority that has brought that party into power. Now, when you look at a majority as thin as what we see right now held by Republicans and when you understand that this is 2023 and that we are now approaching just one year until the next election, this is where we have to ask the question of the insurgent Republicans, I didn’t say conservative, I said from the right– that’s not the same thing, but as you have these eight from the right, the question is where exactly do they plan to go from here?

And this is where in the most part what we see is a development fairly new in American politics. If you look at the House of Representatives say 10, 20 years ago, not to mention 60 or 150 years ago, the parties held together as units of identity. It’s not to say there weren’t fractious and hot debates within the two parties. It is to say that before the advent of social media and the modern explosion of the information age, you didn’t have that many members of Congress who operated as personal brands. They weren’t using platforms in order to build a national personality, even if quite frankly, they have no hope of winning at any national level in electoral politics. So what we are looking at is people who are now famous for bringing down a sitting speaker at the House of Representatives and they are basically just building their social media profile and building their own political brands.

What’s new, is that though there’ve been always members of both parties who have been out of sync with the majority of their own party, the reality is that that is now becoming a huge Republican problem. And here’s where you have to understand that members of Congress are not elected just to say things that make some people feel good. They are put in office for the stewardship of one-435th of the United States House of Representatives. That’s absolutely massive. And the House, though often a deliberative body is not deliberative in the same sense as the United States Senate and individual members simply because there are 435 of them don’t have the opportunity to have a platform on the house floor and at Lecterns, certainly in terms of house leadership, most of them don’t have that. What you have in this new age is people who say, okay, if I don’t have that and I don’t have to work within the political system to gain that, I’ll just go on Twitter or X, I’ll just go on social media. I’ll just put up videos on YouTube.

But at the end of the day, that might be successful if your goal is to build a political brand, but it is not successful if you are one-435th of a deliberative body like the United States House of Representatives. We’re an uncharted territory, not only as you look at the Republican caucus, not only as you look at the U.S. House of Representatives, we’re an uncharted territory. As you look at American political life, this is a very, very dangerous age and you simply have to remember that our constitutional system of government actually does require persons to operate within certain rules of how politics is played, how the game unfolds, how the process of governance requires and also puts on display a certain kind of discipline.

This is not to say that those who in the Republican insurgency want to move the party right or wrong; it is simply to say you really can’t make any headway by this kind of method. It’s true by the way that Kevin McCarthy broke a Republican rule. Now, it’s not a longstanding rule. It goes back to former Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert, just going back say a generation ago, but the Hastert rule said that when you have a speaker responsible for not only the entire house but the agenda of his party, he is not to move forward with anything that requires a majority of Democrats to pass rather than a majority of his own party. That’s been a Republican central principle and rule now for about a generation. The problem is that the Republicans right now have such a narrow or thin majority in the house that they’re really unable to operate by that rule if even just two or three or four or five Republicans dissent. And this is really putting the entire project of Republican leadership in the House of Representatives very much in threat.

Now, again, if you look at Speaker McCarthy now, former Speaker McCarthy, he broke that rule and thus there was plausibility for some members of his own caucus to vote to remove him. That you might say is plan A. And as I say, there’s justification for saying the speaker broke the rule. Now the speaker did so in order to avoid a government shutdown. Now in terms of partisan politics, quite frankly, a government shutdown is sometimes a justifiable legislative maneuver, and we’ve seen it happen in the house before. But in this case, the speaker made the judgment that those who were calling basically for a government shutdown, they didn’t have a plan B in order to understand how Republicans might be successful even holding a narrow majority in the house in using a government shutdown to political advantage to bring about some constriction say in government overspending.

So I’m going to say at times a government shutdown as does Congress refuses to simply allow out-of-control spending, that’s sometimes a very legitimate maneuver, but it does require having a plan B after plan A or at least a step two after step one. It can’t just be as a matter of making some kind of political point.

Part II

Mayhem Is Not a Conservative Impulse: Insurgent Disorder in the House and Big Questions About the Future

Mayhem is just not a good legislative or governing standard or approach for either party either time, and Republicans can see this clearly when it’s Democrats making the error. In this case, we need to understand that you have a Republican Party that is increasingly dysfunctional in the US House of Representatives. That’s a massive problem, and it puts it in a larger perspective. If we look at the history of the 20th century for much of the 20th century and in particular for the era of big government, especially in the period after the second World War, but, of course, it’s long before that and its origins, but the vast spending that came with the expansion of a welfare state and corporatism and so many other developments in American politics, this came as Democrats had what appeared to be an unassailable majority in Congress, at times that meant both houses of Congress, but in particular the Democratic majority seemed unassailable in the House of Representatives.

All that changed, of course, in fairly recent history. There are good explanations for why Republicans have been able repeatedly over the course of the last say, generation or two generations, sometimes to be able to assemble a majority in the U.S. House of Representatives as well as in the Senate, but at least in theory, it’s easier for Republicans to capture the Senate than the House. But there are other issues that are in play here, and one of them is that Republicans don’t appear to know exactly what to do in terms of putting together a legislative strategy for the house. And the reason for that is just simple and affects both houses of Congress to some degree, and that is the fact that politically it’s just easier to spend money than not to spend it. It is easier to allow a vast increase in government spending than somehow to stop it, and this is one of the big long-term crises of American democracy.

We really are looking at long-term challenges because the Republicans, including the Republicans who descended from Speaker McCarthy and eventually toppled him from power, they’re not wrong that the Republican leadership doesn’t have a clear way of understanding how to restrain government spending and get government under control. The problem is that the eight Republicans who voted with the Democrats to remove the speaker of the House, well, they really don’t have much of a strategy either, and we just need to say that’s a fact that has to be put on the table. But this also reminds us as we think of conservatives, as we think of Republicans in the house, this reminds us of a key distinction with vast worldview significance. There’s a distinction that simply has to be made between conservatism as a political philosophy and the right which is a political energy, a political direction, the right, well, it often does include conservatives, but the right includes those who may claim to be conservative, but they’re not acting in any way consistent with conservatism.

Conservatism by definition is the attempt to conserve what must be conserved for human flourishing to move forward. And this is why, for example, you have conservatives who are far more likely to operate out of a biblical worldview and to hold to a biblical understanding of morality and society and politics than what you see on the left, because there’s the basic understanding that conserving what must be conserved includes the family, the dignity and sanctity of human life. It points to the importance of moral issues such as thrift and human responsibility, law and order. Those are very conservative impulses, but mayhem is not a conservative impulse, mayhem and anarchy and disorder, well, that’s not what conservatism represents.

Conservatism actually stands for order rather than disorder. Now, what’s taking place right now in the House of Representatives under a very narrow Republican majority having just toppled its leadership, this is not a good example of order. It appears to be a very dangerous example and experiment in disorder. All of this, of course, is at play with the 2024 elections very much in view. And right now, the Democrats feel that all of this is playing to their advantage and Republicans and conservatives need to be very concerned that in that analysis, the Democrats might turn out to be right.

Part III

Conservatives are Stronger When Ruled by Conservative Principles: Conservative Party in the UK Holds Party Conference

But next, as we’re thinking about these things, I’m speaking to you from the British Isles, in this case from Ireland and just having left Scotland and England, the big issue in the United Kingdom is the fact that you’ve got the political parties meeting in their conferences in order to get ready for the upcoming national election. Now, what’s different in the American system from the British system is that we know when our next election is. The British don’t know when that election’s going to be, but in all likelihood, it will come before the end of 2024.

The party, the Prime Minister will call for an election and the majority party that has produced the Prime Minister, just like the majority party produces the speaker of the House in the U.S., the majority party and the Prime Minister will decide to schedule an election when they think it is to their advantage. The Conservative Party, the Tories, as they have historically been known, have been in power more than not over the course of the last 40 years in British or United Kingdom political life, but they’ve gone through three prime ministers in fairly short order in recent years, and quite frankly, the current Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, is trying to reinvent conservatism and the agenda of the conservative party in order to be able to face the electorate in the next national election because that’s going to be a huge issue.

The big question is will the conservatives lose their majority and remember that in a parliamentary system, unlike our system of the separation of powers, in a parliamentary system, the majority party can basically get everything at once because when it comes to legislation, it’s really all about the House of Commons, not so much at all about the House of Lords. And so you look at this and you recognize, okay, conservatism is being redefined in the United States, but you also look at Great Britain and you see that in the United Kingdom, conservatism is also being redefined. Now there’s something else going on here, and that is that right now it is clear that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is the party leader of the Conservative Party, he clearly thinks that articulating a clear set of conservative policies and conservative principles that are genuinely conservative will be to the party’s advantage going into the next election sometime over the next say year or year and a half.

I’m going to argue that he’s exactly right. I’m not saying he’s absolutely right in every policy. I am saying that he’s absolutely right that conservatives are in a much stronger position when they have clearly conservative policies, programs, and for that matter, political philosophy very much in place. They’re ready to stand on those principles. They’re ready to face the electorate, and they’re going to work hard to gain a majority. We’ll be tracking what’s happening in Great Britain, even from the United States simply because there is another very interesting political pattern, and that is that over the course of the last, say half century, developments in Britain in terms of say the change of one-arty dominance to another party, that has often been followed by very similar exchanges in the United States. It comes down to the Conservative Party being somewhat analogous to the American Republican Party and the Democratic Party being somewhat analogous to Britain’s Labor Party and shifts in that party leadership and in the dominance in the House of Commons.

A shift of government in Great Britain is often pointed to a shift of government in the United States, but of course, it’s more complicated than that. We also elect a Senate. We also elect the President of the United States. All of that is going to be in play.

Part IV

Crime Waves on Both Sides of the Atlantic A Sad Reminder that Order Must Sustain Liberty

Finally, for today, here’s another issue that’s going to be in play: crime. On both sides of the Atlantic, and this is not just true in the English-speaking world, but on both sides of the Atlantic, particularly in the United States and in the United Kingdom, the issue of robbery, theft, crime, and escalation in these statistics, this is becoming a very big talking point, and this is where Christians understand there really are some vast issues of worldview significance here. For one thing, it is just a matter of fact that human beings crave order more than liberty. This is something you see throughout history, which is to say that you can’t have an experiment in ordered liberty unless the liberty is ordered.

If you just have mayhem such as crime on the streets, you’ve got a problem that threatens the very existence of the society. That’s what’s going on right now in Britain. That’s what’s going on right now in the United States. In the United States, in cities like Los Angeles, there have been massive intrusions into stores, massive organized, frankly, gang activity going into stores and stealing very expensive merchandise, and we’re not talking about a few dollars. We’re talking about eventually millions upon millions of dollars of merchandise. In the United Kingdom, very similar development. So much so that The Observer, one of the newspapers here, this case mostly on the political left, by the way, in this case, Sarah Butler of The Observer noted, “Almost 90 retail leaders, including the bosses of Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Boots and WH Smith, have written to the government demanding action on rising retail crime, in which violent criminals are “emptying stores.” That’s exactly what’s taking place.

Criminals have discovered that lacks law enforcement, and in the United States, it’s a problem also with prosecutors in places like Southern California, but also in the American northeast, liberal prosecutors who’ve been produced by an explicit agenda in which it suggested that certain crimes against property simply shouldn’t be taken seriously, because this is taking too many people off the streets and putting them in jails. These progressive prosecutors who frankly are so progressive, they’re not prosecuting, they’ve led to a situation in which thieves and criminals know they can get away with it.

In some jurisdictions in the United States, shoplifting is not a matter of police concern until someone takes $900. Now, you look at that in terms of the worth of material, by the way, or product. You look at this and you recognize $900 a day is a pretty good take when the police say it’s none of their concern until you reach that level or prosecutors are making that decision. In this case, you have 88 retail bosses in Great Britain who’ve simply written to the government to say, the future of our businesses requires that there be some kind of law and order to allow an economy to function. But as we wrap this up for today, there’s something else going on here, and that is that many of these progressives, political liberals who’ve been moving to say, deescalate the war on crime because there have often been disproportionate arrests measure by ethnicity and race and socioeconomic factors, the reality is that it’s the people in those communities who are actually being mostly harmed. They’re being harmed in both Great Britain and in the United States by businesses simply saying, we can’t afford to operate in these cities, we can’t afford to operate in these neighborhoods, and so they simply pull out, and that’s what’s happening in cities like San Francisco and increasing Los Angeles.

They’re not only unwilling to pay the high retail rents, they’re unwilling to put up with abundant crime simply set loose, and what they’re looking at here is the fact that eventually, they make the decision to pull out of an entire neighborhood. Now, it’s pretty easy to understand that that is a threat to the very existence of those neighborhoods, and one key conservative insight and the Christian worldview I think certainly affirms this in a very big way, is that order precedes liberty. You have to have a confidence and an orderly society, for example, in the fact that crime will be punished and mayhem will not be allowed. You have to have that before you can move to the next step of ordered liberty.

Unordered liberty is nothing more than anarchy. It’s lawlessness, and that’s where some of our metropolitan areas are now trending, and frankly, it’s a virus that’s spreading to some smaller communities as well. So on both sides of the Atlantic, just a warning to us, if you do not get crime under control, nothing else in your society will be under control. If you believe it’s a form of discrimination to arrest criminals for being engaged in criminal activity, then let’s just face it, you’re not helping the underserved communities you’re claiming to help, you’re hurting them because if you destroy order, you’re not going to have liberty, you’re not going to have prosperity.

I think it’s time for people in those communities to speak up and say, we’re demanding that crime be punished, because otherwise, we’re going to lose our places to shop, the places we buy our groceries and our clothes and our supplies, and that, by the way, is a sure sign of what will happen when order breaks down and the police simply look the other way, and prosecutors say, you know, in the name of a political agenda, I’m not going to prosecute. One thing is abundantly clear. When those signals are sent, the criminal class hears them clearly. What we see now is just a rational response to that kind of signal being sent.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to

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Today, I’m in Dublin, Ireland, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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