As the failed effort by the new House Republican majority to elect a Speaker creeps along at the pace of a very old snail, most of the complaints about the spectacle are being addressed to the “holdouts,” the 20 or so House rebels trying to sidetrack Kevin McCarthy or make him their permanent hostage via drastic rule changes. But, at some point, the attention should shift to the motives of the 200 or so McCarthy loyalists. Is the vindication of this man’s ambitions really worth the battering their party is taking from this extended demonstration of disunity and fecklessness?
Sure, McCarthy is entitled to the Speakership via the usual rules governing these things. He’s climbed the slippery pole of congressional seniority. He’s spent ridiculous amounts of time raising money for GOP House candidates and engaging in the tedious pageantry of reflexive partisanship and anti-Washington rhetoric demanded of Republican leaders. Long before his current humiliation, he embarrassed himself repeatedly whenever his MAGA-hood was challenged. But, at this point, all the drama is really just a testament to his ego. Why does McCarthy have to be Speaker? What great principle does he represent? What distinct faction has he formed or led? And, more to the point, what exactly would be lost if the majority of House Republicans abandoned him and ended this fiasco of a Speaker’s election?
One could argue that if McCarthy’s colleagues throw him under the bus it would just embolden the rebels to make even more demands, including naming a Speaker from their own ranks. But it’s more plausible that the rebels will accept McCarthy’s scalp as a trophy and back off their efforts to secure virtual control of the House in exchange for letting the Californian have his gavel. It’s an open secret that the No. 2 House Republican, Steve Scalise, would easily be accepted by the rebels, probably without additional concessions. If McCarthy were the selfless leader he professes to be, he’d bow out and save his conference all this grief and embarrassment. He could almost certainly name his own consolation prize from the full array of committee chairmanships or retire with the promise of a future ambassadorship or even Cabinet post the next time a Republican becomes president. He’s also still young enough to become very rich based on his résumé and connections.
But it’s more likely that McCarthy will drag the House to hell and back to win his precious Ring of Power or be forced out to allow the chamber to resume its normal functions. He’s been saying for weeks that he’d grind away at this fight for the Speakership no matter how long it takes. That hasn’t changed:
We may be about to find out how very long he and his friends are willing to elevate his interests above all others and his ego above his party and country.
More on the speaker stalemate
- Kevin McCarthy’s Tarnished Triumph
- Kevin McCarthy’s Humiliation Finally Ends: Live Updates
- C-Span’s Editorial Director on the Network’s Biggest Week Ever