Republicans were aghast that one of their own had committed such a monstrously selfish act.

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), in purely symbolic opposition to the $2.2 trillion emergency coronavirus legislation, forced hundreds of his colleagues to risk their lives — literally — by flying back to Washington. So what if many of the lawmakers are elderly and at high risk?

To thwart Massie’s pointless protest, an attempt to force a roll-call vote instead of a simple voice vote, leaders had to summon 216 members to fill the chamber, eerily separated on the floor and in the gallery above to limit infection. This fruitless, immoral gesture by the 49-year-old legislator was in service of another: to thwart a nearly unanimous Congress from dispensing aid to the sick and suffering in the middle of a pandemic.

President Trump called Massie a “third rate Grandstander” and proposed to “throw Massie out of Republican Party!”

Joining in bipartisan revulsion, former secretary of state John Kerry shared Trump’s tweet and added: “Congressman Massie has tested positive for being an a--hole. He must be quarantined to prevent the spread of his massive stupidity.”

But if Republicans are disturbed by Massie, they might pause for self-reflection. Massie is the epitome of the anti-government culture they have nurtured and encouraged. He embodies the drain-the-swamp political philosophy they have embraced.

“I came here to make sure our Republic doesn’t die by unanimous consent in an empty chamber, and I request a recorded vote!” the bespectacled rebel said in his quickly-stifled stunt.

“Shut the f--- up,” Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) replied from the gallery, an ABC News journalist heard.

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Massie has it backward. Unanimous consent doesn’t kill the Republic. Unanimity, or at least consensus, is what we need in Washington, and what we have lost. Massie and scores like him in the congressional GOP exist to break up consensus, to throw sand in the gears, to hobble government. Maybe Massie’s antics in this moment of national crisis will help Republicans remember that the government they’ve been demonizing is the only thing they have to save a collapsing national economy and stop a deadly disease.

Massie, a believer in the “deep state” conspiracy, is a product of the tea party, a protege of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and a collaborator with outgoing Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who is becoming Trump’s chief of staff, when they tried to oust then-Speaker John Boehner. “I’m ready to be unpopular,” Massie said after his 2012 election, and he has opposed even anti-lynching and human rights legislation — and celebrated when he uses “the process” so that “things die.”

He is emblematic of the newer Republicans who congressional scholars Norman Ornstein and Thomas Mann say have turned the GOP into an “insurgent outlier," rewarding bomb-throwers and making compromise with Democrats all but impossible.

“Newt Gingrich gave them the theme that the best thing they can do is discredit government and blow up all of government,” Ornstein told me Friday as Massie perpetrated his shenanigans. Massie, he said, “is a monster created by their deliberate attempt to get people to have contempt for government and institutions that are part of government.” That contempt gave rise to Trump, but it also remade the Republican caucus in Congress.

Massie boasts that Trump named him a co-chair of his reelection campaign in Kentucky, and Trump has retweeted Massie and said that Massie is “doing a great job” and is “so good.”

No longer. Some on both sides complained about flaws in the legislation during Friday’s debate. And there’s much in the bill to dislike; particularly outrageous is the decision to give the District of Columbia only about $500 million, while less populous and less affected states each get $1.2 billion. But the alternative to the hard-fought compromise — doing nothing — was unthinkable. Massie’s protest served only to turn the House chamber into a petri dish.

Hand-sanitizer dispensers stood at the doors, and aides wiped down lecterns between speakers. The Post’s Paul Kane and PBS’s Lisa Desjardins chronicled fervent attempts by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to dissuade Massie. “No, no, we are not going to have a recorded vote,” Pelosi told Massie, who walked away.

“We’re going to have to ring the bells” to summon members, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said. As leaders bought time with speeches, lawmakers arrived and tried to space themselves out.

Massie, unrepentant, left the Capitol complaining about “a big coverup.” To Trump’s attack, Massie replied: “I’m at least second-rate.”

Republicans may be spared the question of what to do with Massie, who has a serious primary challenger. But what about all the other Massies in their ranks?

With luck, Massie’s ugly spectacle, and the exploding public health and economic crises, will cause Republicans to see the limits of their corrosive message that government is the enemy.

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The Fix’s Amber Phillips breaks down the House vote on the coronavirus stimulus bill and why many members were critical of Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.). (The Washington Post)

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