The GOP's hard -- and unlearnable? -- lesson in the Speaker fight

So what’s the moral of the story—and the path ahead for Republicans? The answer starts with the intentions of the four dozen conservative zealots who made Boehner’s professional life a living hell, and who torpedoed McCarthy before he could even get to purgatory. They call themselves the “Freedom Caucus,” but a better name would be the “We’ll Hold Our Breath Until We Turn Blue” Caucus.

These birds believe the government spends too much money. So does every other Republican on Capitol Hill. But the Freedom Caucus will not acknowledge a few basic facts of life. For starters, a national election was held in 2012 and Democrats won. The fruit of that victory occupies the Oval Office, and doesn’t share their spending priorities. Neither does any Democrat in Congress, all of whom have a vote. Yes, Republicans enjoy a majority, but that’s not the same thing as unanimity. Moreover, longstanding Senate rules mean that a simple majority in the upper chamber isn’t enough to enact sweeping change. And even before the Senate went Republican, these GOP radicals acted as though controlling one half of one of three co-equal branches of government gave them effective veto power. That’s just bad math.

They aren’t so good at history, either. These Tea Party types express a fetish for constitutional originalism, but denounce political compromise as the work of the devil. This is absurd. The document they claim to love was forged through compromise. That’s how politics still works.