House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., shocked everyone this week by announcing that he will not run for speaker, and some in the press think his sudden move may signal the death of the Republican Party.
"Less than a year after a sweeping electoral triumph, Republicans are on the verge of ceasing to function as a national political party," Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty warned in an article titled, "The GOP sinks deeper into chaos. Can it still function as a party?"
"The most powerful and crippling force at work in the once-hierarchical GOP is anger, directed as much at its own leaders as anywhere else," she added. "The forces that have made the House ungovernable are coming from the same wellspring of insurgency, beginning with the Tea Party movement, that propelled the Republicans back into control of Congress."
She concluded that there are "institutional forces" that exist that make it more difficult for the GOP "to bring itself into anything resembling a formation."
McCarthy's move was totally unexpected, according to lawmakers who thought the California congressman had all but secured the role. His abrupt reversal has left House Republicans scrambling to find an alternative, and leaving the current speaker, Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, with no choice but to stay in the position until a viable replacement comes forward.
For the press, however, there's much more to this story. The McCarthy shakeup is about much more than a temporary intra-party squabble, and it marks a major change in the party, according to what appears to be the preferred media narrative.
At the Post, columnist Greg Sargent claimed Thursday's speaker news signals that the congressional GOP is "disastrously broken."
"It has taken the spectacle of a full blown meltdown — complete with Republicans openly weeping inside the Capitol and GOP leaders openly admitting their party is sinking to 'rock bottom' — to get Washington to admit that the congressional GOP may be fundamentally, disastrously broken," he wrote.
"It's true that with Kevin McCarthy pulling out of the race for speaker, the open trappings of chaos are more obvious than usual. But what we're seeing now is only a more vivid manifestation of the problems inside the GOP that have led to one bout of crisis governing after another for years," he added.
The New York Times added to the fray, claiming in one report that Republicans "appear unable to govern themselves."
McCarthy's speaker exit also threatens the "party's credibility with a presidential election just a year away."
To some in the party, the report added, "The spectacle of a House majority split into warring factions, unable to agree on a leader who wants and can do the very difficult job of being House speaker, is neither good politics nor good governance. And if it drags on and causes economic harm, some voters may want to say good riddance."
At MSNBC, there was more of the same, as Chris Matthews also questioned what McCarthy's exit means for the GOP as a whole.
"This is about a political party coming apart," he said. "This is a real mutiny in the Republican Party."
"This is big time. It's big casino," he added. "This is a revolt against the Republican establishment. It's for real. And it's not going to get healed because there's a difference in the two points of view."
Though these sentiments appear to be widely shared in the press, not everyone in media is convinced that a speakership shakeup signals the death of the Republican Party. The Federalist's David Harsanyi said there is obviously dysfunction and confusion in the Republican-controlled House — but this hardly signals the end for the Grand Old Party.
"Completely ridiculous," he said of Tumulty's warning. "GOP spends one day not knowing who the speaker will be and it means they've stopped functioning as a national party? I wonder how many Americans even know who Kevin McCarthy is. 5 percent?"
"Every time they tell me GOP is finished they add a dozen seats next election," he added. "Not one person in America is changing their mind about anything because Kevin McCarthy can't be speaker. Chaos! Because Republicans aren't in complete lockstep?"
The Atlantic's David Graham added in a note of his own, "Once again, I see people are predicting the possible demise of a major political party. As always, I am skeptical!"