First, House Republicans chose an establishment guy to be their speaker. But the hard right got sick of him and dumped him after nine months. Then they turned to his No. 2, another mainstream conservative, who was promptly blocked. Then they tried an ultraconservative candidate, but mainstream members struck back, quickly killing his candidacy.
Back at square one after 20 days without a speaker, many House Republicans have found themselves asking: Are we simply too dysfunctional to govern?
With a free-for-all raging in their ranks, House Republicans were huddling behind closed doors on Monday evening to hear from no fewer than eight contenders for speaker even after a lesser-known candidate, Representative Dan Meuser of Pennsylvania, dropped out as the meeting began. They were to meet again on Tuesday morning to grind through several rounds of voting by secret ballot, eliminating the lowest vote-getter as they go, a process that could take hours.
But the tangle of crosscurrents dividing them means that there is no guarantee that the victor can actually win the post on the House floor.
The speaker saga has exposed the dynamics that have made the House G.O.P. nearly impossible to govern. There are too many conflicting ideologies, too many unyielding personalities and too much bad blood for the party to unite behind any one person.
“There’s only one person that can do it all the way. You know who that is? Jesus Christ,” former President Donald J. Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner and de facto party leader, said on Monday in New Hampshire. “If Jesus came down and said, ‘I want to be speaker,’ he would do it. Other than that, I haven’t seen anybody that can guarantee it.”
Republicans have made no secret of their divisions. They openly refer to their various factions as The Five Families — a reference to warring Mafia crime families. They consist of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, the conservative Republican Study Committee, the business-minded Main Street Caucus, the mainstream Republican Governance Group and the bipartisan Problem Solvers Caucus.
During his nine months as speaker, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California tried to smooth over the tensions by holding weekly meetings of those groups. But the job proved almost impossible.
There are factions within the factions. A hard-right group calling itself The 20 includes many members of the Freedom Caucus, but some lawmakers who are not. Some members are loyal to others from their home states; some to their committee chairs. There are wild cards who are members of no ideological caucus. There are personal vendettas that have nothing to do with ideology.
Mr. McCarthy’s ouster was in part because of bad blood between him and Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida. Allies of Mr. McCarthy, who has an icy relationship with Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2, helped block him from the job. When Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the co-founder of the Freedom Caucus, was dumped last week, it was in large part at the hands of members of the Appropriations Committee with long memories of his dilatory tactics, particularly on spending bills.
Now Representative Tom Emmer of Minnesota, the No. 3 Republican widely believed to be the next front-runner to win his party’s nomination, is facing some similar hurdles. Feelings remain raw from a contentious race for his current post against Representative Jim Banks of Indiana.
“There’s a lot of historical relationships that some are not going to ever be able to work around,” said Representative Kevin Hern of Oklahoma, the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest of the G.O.P. ideological groups on Capitol Hill, and another contender for the post.
To become speaker, a Republican must hold together 217 votes, losing no more than four, a task that seems almost impossible in the current circumstance.
Mr. Emmer has allies among both the conservative and the establishment wings of the party. He served two terms as the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, helping Republican candidates across the country win elections and making inroads across the conference in the process.
But Mr. Emmer is running into headwinds from allies of Mr. Trump, who view him as insufficiently loyal to the former president and cite his vote to certify the 2020 election for Joseph R. Biden Jr.
“First thing to do is stop Emmer,” said the right-wing podcast host Stephen K. Bannon, who predicted that the D.C. establishment would be “decapitated” should Mr. Emmer lose.
Aware of Mr. Bannon’s sway over House Republicans, Mr. Emmer has tried to get in front of the criticism. Mr. Emmer and Mr. Trump spoke by phone this weekend, according to a person familiar with the conversation. Allies of Mr. Emmer began circulating the Minnesotan’s pro-Trump bona fides over the weekend, pointing out that Mr. Emmer was one of the first members to endorse Mr. Trump in 2016, endorsed him again in 2020 and has said he will endorse the G.O.P. nominee this cycle.
The outreach did not necessarily appear to mollify Mr. Trump.
“I’m trying to stay out of it as much as possible,” Mr. Trump said of the speaker’s race, after noting that the Minnesotan had only in the previous 24 hours called to proclaim himself “my biggest fan.”
Among the eight candidates, all except for two — Mr. Emmer and Representative Austin Scott of Georgia — voted to object to certifying Mr. Biden’s 2020 victory in at least one state.
Michael Gold contributed reporting.