We Need to Talk About Kevin McCarthy

We Need to Talk About Kevin McCarthy

It’s been hard to take your eyes off the train wreck on Capitol Hill. For Kevin McCarthy, the only thing worse than losing the House Speaker race was winning. We were troubled by so many bribes, so many compromises, even attempted attacks on one lawmaker by another, with a third destroying it. The winner belongs to the spoils, but also to a diminished, polluted institution.

Everyone saw the Congress break up. C-SPAN had the rare opportunity to point its cameras anywhere in the House chamber, given that it had no controlling legal authority to keep them fixed in their usual stationary “two shots.” We saw members switch seats like kids in the high school cafeteria. The hosts were the stars of the show. Even if some Republican members of the conference agree with Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz and Paul Gosar (whose family warned Arizona voters to remove him from office), they don’t want to recall them. We saw the defendants fall to their seats, the Democrats united and haughty, and the negotiations frantic. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who had been feuding with Gaetz, sat next to him for a face-à-tete. It was hard to know who to root for until Gaetz nearly had his face smashed in by representative Mike Rogers. Unfortunately, they all lost. On CBS, Stephen Colbert joked that Boebert had McCarthy’s manhood in a clamshell bag.

Throughout the week, McCarthy held about 200 members of the Republican conference. Still, many were appalled that he had given away so much, like guaranteeing House Freedom Caucus seats on the powerful House Rules Committee and allowing just one roving member to call a vote on protecting his, the worst of his gifts. McCarthy erased the red line he originally drew, requiring five members to initiate a motion to vacate the chair. If this rule were adopted, future speakers would be at the mercy of an alienated member, a cataclysm to a man’s greatest glory.

Despite the Neville Chamberlain-like softening, there remained between 15 and 20 who could be called Never McCarthyites and five strong Never, Never McCarthyites who could not be bribed. On Thursday, the question hanging heavy in the air was who would tell McCarthy, the former Young Gun, to stop shooting blanks.

A Californian, McCarthy remained sunny during what experts said was his death foretold. He joked on the House floor, and Thursday night, he became optimistic. His allies said there was a deal in the works, meaning the boss had opened up the store to robbers who hadn’t taken enough jewelry. When Donald Trump won a single vote on the 11th ballot and McCarthy failed to regain a majority, it brought to mind the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result. With exhausted members slumped in their seats, the only thing a narrow majority could agree on was to call it a night and return on Friday afternoon.

When members left surgery and family emergencies to vote for the 14th time, the word was that McCarthy had a deal, despite the certainty that he had given so much he couldn’t get back. The 57-year-old risked losing the right-wing institutionalists who make up almost all of his support. McCarthy spent the morning reassuring them that he would not be relieved of all plush committee duties. When McCarthy happened to be shooting blanks again, the safest thing to do was to send them all home. In the second most dramatic moment of the night — after one Republican jumped at another’s throat — McCarthy ran toward the House clerk waving a red card as if he’d won the lottery to change his “No” on the adjournment to a “Yes.” This time he wasn’t crying wolf. Gaetz — and one shudders to imagine what McCarthy pulled out of his hat for him — would vote Present. Like Raggedy Ann, McCarthy’s face shifted from exhausted sadness to radiant joy.

But there was no joy in Mudville Saturday morning as Republicans cheered. The spectacle was high-definition proof that the GOP couldn’t put their house in order, as every House had done since 1856. What chance did the country have to manage the border, pay the bills, fund its government, and put out another pandemic?

The Bakersfield man who once knelt before Ronald Reagan before he bowed to Trump forgot the Gipper’s advice not to negotiate with terrorists. (Of course, Reagan, another Californian, sanctioned an arms deal with the Ayatollah, so McCarthy is in good company.) Now McCarthy has learned again that when you surrender to terrorists, they are not neutralized. They are brave. The new speaker has pulled the bomb thrower Taylor Greene to his side. The representative is now one of McCarthy’s closest allies, even though she was kicked out of committee service because of her grievances. You can bet she has her panels picked in the 118th Congress. McCarthy is an institutionalist who has climbed the slippery slope of politics almost to the final. He has worked within the system since 2007, taking the place of his retiring boss, Representative Bill Thomas, who recently, apparently ruefully, called his protégé a liar. Now he finds himself in debt to the anti-institutionalists, which is like being indebted to the crowd. It doesn’t end well.

McCarthy is bending to the will of his extremists, who believe, like Nietzsche, that what the gods would build they must first destroy, preferably on Fox News, as Boebert demonstrated last Wednesday night, speaking on Sean Hannity , which is not easy to do.

McCarthy’s sunny disposition prompted him to measure the curtains in the speaker’s office. He went in to enjoy the balcony before the madness began. You can follow the pizza to see how tough and long the negotiations were: They started with Washington’s excellent Wiseguy Pizza and went down to Domino’s. McCarthy’s entry before he had the job so upset Gaetz that he wrote to the architect of the Capitol to find out why he had cooperated in the illegal move.

McCarthy’s cheerful demeanor rarely broke, but when it did, he looked dazed as the “No” votes continued to climb throughout the week, from five to 20. How could that be, when everyone loves Kevin? But when everyone loves you unequivocally, they might not like you enough to take your side in a gunfight.

McCarthy had one advantage that guaranteed his victory in the early hours of Saturday morning: You can’t beat somebody without nobody. The race was anti-McCarthy, not pro-anyone else. McCarthy’s deputy, Representative Steve Scalise, a well-known fellow from Louisiana who was seriously injured in a congressional baseball game in 2017, looked like he might, then wouldn’t, his caution stemming from the knowledge that he didn’t you can injure the king, you must kill him or die yourself. His “I’ve been shot at, but I hate guns” ethos is the perfect biography for the GOP conference — as, perhaps, is his supposed quote that he was “David Duke without the baggage.”

The spectacle of McCarthy losing and losing and losing until he got tired of losing is one thing. But knowing that his potential successor will also live precariously in the hands of radical Republicans is painful. It comes from McCarthy’s failure to stand for anything.

It wasn’t always like that. Two years ago, he stood up in the House and held the former president responsible for the January 6 brawl. But he wanted to be chairman, and so, two weeks later, he flew to Mar-a-Lago to beg for forgiveness. Last night, to attract more votes from the Freedom Caucus, he vowed to dismantle the metal detectors at the entrance to the House floor and disband the Ethics Committee. God forbid there be a mechanism for removing George Santos, the fabulist and McCarthy supporter recently elected from Long Island.

If McCarthy had been wiser, he could have seen the historic successful presidency of Nancy Pelosi, whose office he has taken over from adverse possession. She never brought up a bill when she didn’t have the votes, especially one for her election as Speaker. She always won on the first ballot.

There are some grown-up Republicans. Across the way is Mitch McConnell, who narrowly lost his re-election as minority leader by 10 votes. If McCarthy had glanced at the TV as he was losing another ballot, he would have seen McConnell hobnobbing in Kentucky with President Joe Biden, who was giving him credit for bringing home millions to infrastructure spending, including the ailing Brent Spence Bridge, the span that connects. Cincinnati to Covington, Kentucky. True, McConnell has had it easier, and his mandate is perhaps more devastating than McCarthy’s disaster. He doesn’t have Boebert and Gaetz to deal with, but Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz are also contending. McConnell wisely boasts that he doesn’t talk to Trump, marking his days of silence as an AA member. He is one year sober.

McCarthy foresaw the chaos to come when he vetoed the omnibus spending bill last month. That vote to block must-pass legislation showed that he would not only allow votes for extremist measures, but also support them. When it comes time to raise the debt ceiling, we’ll go through that again, with potentially disastrous results for the economy. Of course, McCarthy will throw the full investigative power of the House after unlocking Hunter Biden’s laptop as if his vote depended on it, which it does.

At the end of the week, McCarthy returned to philosophy: It’s not how you start, he said. That’s how you end up.

And it was over. By the 15th round, he had given up shop and limped across the finish line, an exhausted but jubilant winner, announcing that he was leading a united party and thanking former President Trump for his support.

On Monday, McCarthy will be made miserable by the same nihilists who forced him to crawl on the glass to win. He will have to face the job he humiliated himself for. As a young man, McCarthy loved his job fighting fires in dry, hot Kern County, but it didn’t prepare him for fighting fires in Washington. For as long as his colleagues let him stay, McCarthy is a hamster on a wheel, each day a repeat of the previous miserable day, only unlike Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, the speaker will never grow up. work. Although he has pleased his extremists to the extreme, they will never trust him. Others will wonder if they were sold at the best price. McCarthy will wake up every morning to preside over a chaotic institution he created because of the many people who have gone there to burn the country down.

Earlier in the day, McCarthy failed to walk down the aisle to the steps of the Capitol to attend a memorial service for the officers, living and dead, who protected him on Jan. 6 two years ago. “What is a failed coup?” you might ask on the second anniversary of the terror. It’s practice for another. And it’s hard to see how the wounded young speaker does anything about it—or anything else.


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