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Kevin McCarthy Stabbed By The Hateful Eight
No illusions of principle here, just rank ambition, greed, and offense at being called out for trafficking teenagers
First, the important thing to note: I was on Stuart Varney this AM, on Laura Ingraham tonight, and on Fox News Sunday on, well, Sunday, to talk about this.
Given that everyone from Steven Miller to Hugh Hewitt is decrying this historic move, I think this expresses the mood of the Republican Party:
Here are my takes on this situation, which, I should remind you, are founded in expertise, elevated by knowledge, grounded in political history, and absolutely unobjectionable and scientifically confirmed as true in every sense. First this, last night, about the process that led to McCarthy’s removal:
An admission of personal bias: I have little to no respect for academics or intellectuals who write about the Congress of the United States. As a student, I was taught by brilliant professors about the dynamics of legislative decisions and negotiation, the nooks and crannies of process and debate, the give and take, the game theory at play. Then, when I arrived on Capitol Hill, within a month I discovered that a certain member had completely changed his position on a piece of legislation — a 180-degree reversal from where he stood before. When I asked an aged veteran legislative aide about why this was possibly the case, he looked at me, bemused, and asked — “He’s getting a divorce. Which lobbyist do you think his wife slept with? This is personal, not politics.”
The scales fall from the eyes and you find the personal, in this case, the personal grievances of one Matt Gaetz, the man with the slick hair from Hollywood, Florida, who today achieved something that has not even been seriously attempted in a century-plus: the ouster of the speaker of the House, in this case Kevin McCarthy.
This motion to vacate the chair was not surprising in the least. Anyone who witnessed the January Sturm und Drang could observe that McCarthy was not long for the world of the speakership — that he would have to make it to the 2024 election, and expand his majority, or fall to the whims of a decidedly intransigent eight to ten members willing to do a historic knifing for reasons yet to be determined.
The oddity of it was how this whole process played against type for all the narratives previously established in mass media. McCarthy was not at war with MAGA. He was and is MAGA, embracing Trump, promoting Marjorie Taylor Greene — while also establishing détente with the true fiscal conservatives, people such as Chip Roy and Thomas Massie (who extracted Rules Committee appointments from the fight), and with the moderates, including the many New York and California representatives who found themselves winners in the odd 2022 cycle. Somehow, McCarthy cobbled together a coalition. But the island of misfit toys that held out to the end — led, most charismatically, by Matt Gaetz — remained. They extracted no promises from McCarthy, but came along by force of will and under pressure from their colleagues.
Understand that Matt Gaetz did not in fact want to catch the car. He did not actually want to be standing in front of Ilhan Omar and AOC and the Democratic coalition in making his ludicrous case that the individual appropriations bills he helped block were now the be all and end all of McCarthy’s speakership. He was visibly flustered and angry when Garret Graves, one of the most serious members of Congress and likely a future speaker if he wants the job, challenged him from the well on raising money off his motion to vacate.
But Gaetz blames McCarthy for the continued investigation into his alleged sex trafficking of a minor, so again, the feeling is personal, not politics.
Gaetz almost certainly calculated — because unlike some of his compatriots, he is smart enough to calculate — that McCarthy would fight back against his attempt to vacate by cutting a deal with the Democrats. Such a deal could be fodder for more fundraising and denunciation. It’s reasonable. That deal was almost certainly there. McCarthy could have done any number of things related to Ukraine funding alone to satisfy enough centrist Democrats to render this vacate attempt moot.
Instead, McCarthy chose to die on his feet. Gaetz invited chaos, convinced enough Republicans to go along with him, and now has to live with the consequences. A Hakeem Jeffries speakership might be perfect for him. To rail against the Washington uniparty of 208 Democrats and eight Republicans who dashed hopes of impeachment and any fiscal hedge against everything the Senate wants could prove quite profitable, even if you were one of those eight.
Wherever Republicans go from here, if it is possible to go anywhere from here, this moment proved the limits of Donald Trump’s hold on the Washington GOP. Trump backed McCarthy at every turn. He backed him for the speakership. He backed him on multiple policy fights. He backed him, even just today, decrying the infighting among House GOPers. But Gaetz didn’t seem to fear that at all.
Perhaps this is an indication of Tucker Carlson supplanting Donald Trump as the most influential MAGA voice. Carlson, whose own personal gripes against McCarthy are widely known, has opposed him at every turn, often for reasons that betray how catty and petty his grievances are. Or perhaps it’s a win for Ron DeSantis, who reminded viewers of his early opposition to McCarthy on Fox today.
This remains to be seen. In the meantime, Gaetz has reaped and will reap the financial rewards that set him up for his planned run for the governorship of Florida — coinciding with his father’s planned return to the Florida legislature. These Florida men and their personal gripes seem to hold sway over the whole of the Republican Party, and there is no explaining it away with political trends. Throw out the record books — these teams just hate each other.
In Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, a posse of violent ne’er-do-wells forced by circumstance into a house together descend, through duplicity, avarice and lies, into bloody chaos which leaves everyone dead. The title is a fitting one for the eight Republicans who crossed party lines to vote with House Democrats, unanimous in their belief that they are better off without Kevin McCarthy as speaker. In doing so, they ensured the House is controlled by Democrats in all but name.
As the speaker race begins, the odds favor Steve Scalise or Jim Jordan — both more satisfying to the right wing than McCarthy, but far less capable of fundraising as he did to protect the tenuous hold of moderates in blue states. But no matter who replaces McCarthy, the center of gravity for Republican leadership in Washington that stood with House leadership for the past nine months is now in the Senate. With the upcoming elections likely to return Mitch McConnell to majority leader status, or pass the baton to one of the three Johns, it stands to be there for the foreseeable future.
That is not, to say the least, good for the next generation of conservatives.
As historically shocking events go, this one was absolutely predictable. From the moment that McCarthy gave way on the issue of vacating the chair, it was clear that the rules of the Republican Conference — which demand that a majority of the conference be agreed before such a motion is made — would do nothing to hold back someone as single-mindedly and personally opposed to McCarthy as Matt Gaetz.
As former House Speaker Newt Gingrich noted yesterday, in an op-ed calling for Gaetz and his compadres to be expelled from the conference:
Gaetz is violating the House Republican Conference rule that states the motion to vacate “should only be available with the agreement of the Republican Conference so as to not allow Democrats to choose the Speaker.” The agreement made when McCarthy became speaker doesn’t supersede the conference rules. Gaetz still needs a majority of the conference. Gaetz knows he can’t possibly get a majority of the House GOP conference to his side. He is simply violating the rules in the pursuit of personal attention and fundraising.
This is not about ideology. When McCarthy cut the deal that he did in January with members of the House Freedom Caucus, he did so by finding ways to work with some of the most hardline fiscal conservatives in the body. Chip Roy, Thomas Massie, Marjorie Taylor Greene and others all backed McCarthy yesterday because he had, in large part, given them what they wanted: the ability to craft the rules guiding the process and a much stronger voice in crafting legislation. For nine months, McCarthy effectively treated these ideological warriors as part of the team — a far cry from leadership’s past approach of crushing or sidelining them.
For the Hateful Eight, this wasn’t good enough. And since their demands were effectively impossible to achieve — in fact, they regularly worked to ensure they were impossible — they decided it was better to give the House over to Democrats now, rather than wait til next year’s elections. It’s a bold strategy, Cotton. Let’s see if it pays off for them.
Items of Interest
“The rancor ushered in a golden age of literary assassination in American politics. No etiquette had yet evolved to define the legitimate boundaries of dissent. Poison-pen artists on both sides wrote vitriolic essays that were overly partisan, often paid scant heed to accuracy, and sought visceral impact.”
— Ron Chernow