The recent discovery of gravitational waves in space is being considered one of greatest in scientific history, though it came decades after Albert Einstein theorized about them a century ago in his theory of relativity.
And likewise it goes with politics. Donald Trump being on the verge of becoming the Republican presidential nominee is a ground-break moment that is just being discoverd but that started years ago on Capitol Hill and elsewhere across the country.
Let’s start in 2009 and 2010. Congressional Republican leaders forged a pact to make things as hard as they could on President Obama.
During that tumultuous period, the Democrat-controlled House and Senate approved the stimulus package to bolster the economy, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform measure and OK’d the Affordable Care Act.
The House managed to approve a controversial climate bill, referred to as “cap and trade.” But that package never surfaced in the Senate.
Congressional Republicans seized the Democratic initiatives and turned the political tables against the party that passed them.
But this was more than just going after Democrats. Some Republicans were intent at going after those in their own party, too -- some of whom they viewed as Democratic “enablers” -- even if their voting record didn’t match the accusation.
The first sign that something was up came in May, 2010. Republicans knocked then-Utah GOP Sen. Bob Bennett, off the ballot at a state convention, resulting in the election of the Tea Party-backed Mike Lee later that year.
In August, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, lost her primary to Sarah Palin acolyte Joe Miller, though Murkowski then waged the first successful Senate write-in campaign in 50 years to hold her seat.
In November, Republicans flipped the House thanks to the rise of the Tea Party and came close to earning control of the Senate. The GOP stumbled in two Senate contests, veering too far to the right with their nominees.
Driven by the Tea Party, Republicans campaigned on repealing ObamaCare. The first vote in the Republican-controlled House was to dismantle the health care law. Republicans planned to harness profligate spending. Things would be different in Washington under the GOP.
The government came close to shutting down in March and April of 2011, thanks to pushes from the right. That was only a precursor to the 16-day shutdown of 2013.
Conservatives forced the country to the brink in the summer of 2011 as many Republicans refused to raise the debt ceiling. The debt limit fight did prompt significant spending cuts. But not on the scale many conservatives hoped.
Republicans were sure Mitt Romney would demolish Obama in 2012. It didn’t happen. Republicans were certain they would win control of the Senate in 2012. It didn’t happen.
Thinking they would be working with a lame-duck president, Republicans delayed big spending decisions until Christmastime and New Year’s, sparking a battle over the “fiscal cliff” during the holidays.
Come January, 2013, conservatives fired a shot across the bow of then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. Boehner reclaimed the speaker’s gavel. But not after nine Republicans defected and Rep. Brian Babin, T-Texas, voted “present.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, helped engineer the aforementioned government shutdown that fall to force Obama to defund the health care law. Cruz cowed many congressional Republicans to go along against their better judgment.
Yet ObamaCare lived.
Then in June of 2014, a bombshell nobody saw coming. College professor Dave Brat upset then-House Majority Leader Rep. Eric in the Virginia Republican primary. It was one thing to blindside Bennett at the convention. It was unprecedented to defeat such a high-ranking House member in a primary. A major scalp was now pinned to the wall, fueled by voter distrust and angst.
Republicans secured even more seats in the 2014 midterm election and finally captured control of the Senate. Boehner stood for speaker in January, 2015. He survived a tense roll call vote for speaker that nearly sent the tally to a second ballot for the first time since 1923, but barely.
Only 216 Republicans voted for Boehner. Twenty-four cast ballots for someone else. Babin again voted “present.”
Boehner may have been a little more politically nimble than Cantor and was able to survive longer. But the speaker was clearly in the crosshairs.
Out of nowhere in late July, just before the start of the August recess, Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., shocked Capitol Hill when he unveiled a nonbinding-but-unprecedented resolution that could possibly force a mid-Congress vote for speaker.
The House never considered Meadows’s plan. But the stage was set. Boehner was done by fall.
Initially, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., was thought to be the natural successor. But he could never quite muster the votes and withdrew in dramatic fashion.
Even if McCarthy had managed to squeak into the speaker’s suite, many thought the same tides that finally crashed into Boehner would have thrown McCarthy overboard in a matter of months. After weeks of tumult, Republicans finally elected Wisconsin GOP Rep Paul Ryan as speaker.
These were the political gravitational waves at work inside the GOP.
Their ripples forced dramatic upheaval in Washington. But people invested in Republicans to shake up things.
Obama proved the perfect foil. But soon, the same people who aligned with the Tea Party in 2010, were sick of it. ObamaCare was still on the books. Congress still hadn’t slashed spending to a level they found acceptable.
The national debt ballooned above $19 trillion. Starting in 2009, Republicans crawled into bed with the disaffected.
And when those voters aligned with the Tea Party and other conservative factions failed to see change in Washington, they came at the GOP with pitchforks.
The question of course was how did Republicans court those voters? The obvious answer is that many Republicans overpromised. They sold the Tea Party the goods. Now they’re mad as hell. Jeb Bush never had a chance with this crowd. How about Cruz or Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.?
Cruz certainly has a better chance with this crowd. But this is why many voters stand foursquare behind Trump. He’s not a “traditional politician.” He’s not of Washington. They appreciate the fiery rhetoric. The bombast. And the promises.
Oh. The promises. Here we go.
That’s where this started to go off the track for congressional Republicans, most of whom now fear a Trump candidacy.
It started with how Republicans responded to Obama in 2009 and the major majorities Democrats carried in both the House and Senate.
“You've got to remember President Obama came in with a super-majority, Ryan said.
“He came in in his first term, the first half of his first term -- Nancy Pelosi was speaker of the House. Harry Reid was majority leader with 60 votes in the Senate. And they were able to cram through a liberal progressive agenda on an unsuspecting country. And the rest is, as we say, history.”
Cram through? Well, that was what Republicans told voters that Democrats were doing. Never mind Democrats had the votes in both bodies to approve these initiatives.
But Republicans seized on that agenda and claimed Democrats were abusing their power. Republicans told voters that if they elected the GOP in 2010, things would be different.
And when they weren’t….
“There are people who unrealistically set expectations of what could be accomplished in divided government,” said Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. “People thought all we could do is wave a magic wand and we could repeal ObamaCare.”
Thune suggests there’s now a backlash to those overpromises.
“All conventional wisdom is out the window,” he said.
Ryan is trying to temper those expectations now. But one wonders if it’s too late.
“Some people may have led others to believe that just with Congress, we can rewrite laws or just with Congress, we can overturn laws we didn't like,” he said. “I find half the time, whether it's Lincoln Days or listening sessions, kind of explaining the way our Constitution works. Giving civics lessons.”
It’s not as though Republican leaders didn’t try the civics lessons approach after acquiring the House majority in 2011.
Cantor said on multiple occasions that the GOP only controlled “one-half” of “one-third” of government. Boehner sometimes described the House as a goalie playing defense against Obama.
But academic talk about “civics lessons” can’t compete against overheated rhetoric about ripping out health care. Republicans then stoked the embers by conducting more than 60 roll call votes to eliminate the Affordable Care Act.
Civics lessons can’t compete when some in the GOP hurl incendiary if not racist rhetoric at the President and call for impeachment. Civics lessons are nice. But they can’t measure up.
So here we are, several years down the road on the precipice of a major political discovery: Donald Trump might just be the Republican nominee. It took a while. But follow the political gravitational waves in reverse to the source. And it will explain how the Republican Party got here.