“Bring it,” he said. “I’ll survive,” he said.
“He” was Kevin McCarthy, “it” was a motion to vacate. Matt Gaetz brought it. McCarthy didn’t survive it.
And just like that, concerns about the stability of the US government were brought back to the fore. The veneer of calm lasted less than 36 hours.
They might say otherwise, but the GOP hardliners who ousted McCarthy didn’t have a succession plan. That’s problematic. As George W. Bush might attest, toppling a leader with no plan for what to do next is a recipe for chaos. That may be the whole point, though. As discussed at length in “Dysfunction, Division and Dystopia,” many would argue that chaos is an end in itself for America’s far-right.
The vote against McCarthy was 216 to 210, as Democrats joined the GOP hardliners to remove McCarthy. “Think long and hard before you plunge us into chaos,” Tom Cole, among McCarthy’s many Republican allies, exhorted, addressing his own party. “That’s where we’re headed if we vacate the speakership,” he added.
Cole was wasting his breath. With apologies to any readers who harbor an affinity for Gaetz and his ilk, thinking isn’t their strong suit.
Ostensibly, Gaetz and the seven other Republicans who overthrew McCarthy on Tuesday, were upset at what they view as an insufficiently strident approach to key issues like fiscal spending, Ukraine, immigration and excessive “wokeness” in the military. But Gaetz wasn’t shy about his other motive. “The way I look at it, I’m trying to do a little housekeeping before he arrives,” Gaetz remarked, of the bid to remove McCarthy. In that quote, “he” is Donald Trump. Gaetz is apparently waiting on Trump like the Second Coming.
Last week, Gaetz made it clear he’d move against McCarthy if he didn’t force a government shutdown. McCarthy was ousted for striking a compromise with Democrats to keep the government open. Gaetz viewed that compromise not as a win for the American people, but as a personal slight. That says a lot. About Gaetz.
Mourn America’s broken government as you will, but no one should shed a tear for McCarthy. This was, ultimately, his own fault. I discussed this at length in January when Gaetz put McCarthy through a humiliatingly arduous round of votes during the GOP’s fraught efforts to elect a speaker. Consider, for example, the following passages excerpted from an article published here on January 4, when McCarthy was struggling to secure the House gavel:
Although McCarthy disavowed the Capitol riot both publicly and privately, he was back in Trump’s good graces in no time. He’s remained in good standing with the party’s exiled chieftain since. Trump supports McCarthy for Speaker, but in many ways, it was Trump who doomed him.
The Freedom Caucus pre-dates Trump’s presidency, but its members embody the fringe politics of Trumpism. For McCarthy, it’s tragic irony. Or tragicomedy. Mitch McConnell might’ve been Trump’s chief enabler, but McCarthy was chief groupie. Trumpism appears close to achieving something like independence from Mar-a-Lago. It now exists almost on its own, and its standard-bearers are in open rebellion against a man who risked a decadesold political career to show fealty to Trump.
It’s not so much Trump, the man, who doomed McCarthy, but Trump the ideology. The burn-it-all-down mentality, the embrace of demonstrable lies for the sake of stoking division, various manifestations of dangerous extremism — all of it finds safe harbor among the lawmakers who humiliated McCarthy.
This raises very uncomfortable questions for a nation struggling to find its way. The intra-party intransigence on display among House Republicans bodes ill not just for the GOP, but for the US government more generally. It appears that some of those opposed to McCarthy have no interest in governing at all.
I think it’s fair to call that prescient, although it wasn’t exactly a unique observation. It was readily apparent that the spectacle of McCarthy’s speakership vote was a harbinger.
It’s important to note that among the incumbent lawmakers who initially objected to McCarthy’s bid to become speaker in January, 14 of 15 voted to overturn the 2020 presidential election. All of those lawmakers favored sustaining at least one objection to states’ 2020 results even after witnessing the riot at the Capitol. Voting with them on that day in 2021 was McCarthy who, two years later, was compelled to prostrate himself at the feet of Trumpism to secure the House gavel in what I described as “a feat of self-abasement with almost no modern historical precedent.”
On January 7, I warned that the leverage the House’s far-right flank secured over McCarthy during the speakership vote virtually ensured that the forthcoming debt ceiling debate and any government shutdown brinksmanship would be more perilous than previous standoffs. Now here we are. The House has no Speaker and, as of this writing, the prospects for Republicans successfully electing one were grim.
“You really have to wonder whether or not the House is governable at all,” South Dakota Republican Dusty Johnson mused on Tuesday evening.
Actually, Dusty, you don’t have to wonder. It’s clear: The House isn’t governable. And it’s no secret why. As New York Republican Mike Lawler put it last week, “You keep running lunatics, you’re going to be in this position.”