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Kevin McCarthy is GOP incompetence made flesh
No Republican equipped to be speaker would want the job in the first place.
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Republican extremist chaos agents, led by glib-haired Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, voted him out as payback for avoiding a government shutdown. McCarthy passed a 45 day stopgap funding measure relying on Democratic votes and splitting his own caucus; all but one Democrat voted for it, while 90 Republicans voted against. Hakeem Jeffries, Democratic House minority leader, called it a “complete and total surrender by right-wing extremists.”
Jeffries also led his own caucus in voting unanimously to oust McCarthy. California Representative Adam Schiff explained why succinctly. “Kevin McCarthy is not trustworthy.”
All of which constitutes the final humiliating episode in the pratfall speakership of McCarthy, a legislator who seems to lack both a spine and basic quantitative aptitude. Watching him try to get the House to do any damn thing is a masterclass in unmastery, a virtuoso display of self-immolation. How did this man stumble into power? What did the country do to deserve him?
The answer to that last question is that while the country doesn’t deserve McCarthy, the Republican Party does. The fractured, fascist, grandstanding, irresponsible GOP is the perfect complement to the squawking, thrashing speakership of McCarthy. If Trump is one embodiment of the GOP, McCarthy is another, slightly less orange one. He was not the speaker the Republicans needed. But he was the speaker they deserved.
Republicans are ungovernable and won’t govern
The House GOP has been a pit of venomous, constipated vipers for years now. Republican Speaker John Boehner’s tenure, which began in 2011, was marked by vicious infighting as conservatives in the Freedom Caucus demanded government shutdowns and unworkable funding cuts. Boehner mostly fended them off, but threw up his hands and walked away from the speakership in 2015. He was succeeded by Paul Ryan, who took the job reluctantly, and kept on getting more reluctant through Freedom Party challenges and the election of Donald Trump, a man Ryan vocally and then, after his victory, quietly despised. Ryan retired (or, if you prefer, fled) in 2018.
Given those precedents, you could give McCarthy the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he’s not especially incompetent; maybe his caucus is just ungovernable. And it’s true that a lot of McCarthy train wrecks seem like they would have been difficult for anyone to avoid.
For instance, it took 15 votes for McCarthy to win the speakership. Was that his fault? He had no feasible rivals, and those voting against him, like Gaetz, didn’t have clear demands. Republican extremists just seemed to want the chance to get in front of the cameras and humiliate McCarthy, personally. If someone else could have won the speakership without the mess, that person would have put themselves forward and gotten the votes without the mess.
Of course, no candidate of that sort emerged. McCarthy is the guy whose ambition prompted him to stick his face in the grungy ceiling fan that is House GOP politics, and to refuse to withdraw it in despite the filth and bludgeoning.
House Republicans probably can’t be herded by anyone. But a competent speaker is by definition someone who has a good sense of what can be accomplished and what can’t. That means that any competent speaker candidate — like, say, John Boehner — is going to take one look at the current state of play in the House and cease to be a speaker candidate.
Only a fool would try to govern a caucus of rabid fools. This really is a case where anyone who wants the job is obviously unqualified. A speaker who would willingly put himself in the hands of the current House GOP is a speaker who has demonstrated his own utter inability to do the job.
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The GOP is a recruitment nightmare
This isn’t just a problem with the House. Trump’s ascent, and the demands of an electorate drunk on conspiracy theories and right-wing media talking points, creates major recruitment problems for Republicans. If you’re a serious conservative candidate who wants to pass conservative policy in Washington, you’d have to think twice, or a lot more than twice, before you’d enter a race just to lose and quite possibly be personally smeared and threatened by some random fascist with a slick smile and a Trump endorsement.
In 2022, Trump pushing a crop of fatally flawed, untested candidates like the ludicrously incompetent Blake Masters in Arizona and the scandal-ridden Herschel Walker in Georgia played a leading role in costing Republicans the Senate. Candidate quality was a problem in House races as well — as in Alaska, where former governor and VP candidate Sarah Palin just about single-handedly lost the state’s House seat to Democrat Mary Peltola.
The GOP has struggled to find candidates willing to take on Democrats in swing states for 2024. And while they’ve made some progress, it looks like their handpicked moderate may well lose the Montana Senate nomination to Matt Rosendale, who managed to lose the very conservative state to Jon Tester in 2018. Similarly, Keri Lake, who lost the Arizona governor’s race last year because she’s a radical loon, is probably going to win the nomination to run for Senate in 2024.
Moderates keep losing primaries. When they do get into office, like Mitt Romney, they are vilified by their own and worse. There’s good reason to believe the insurrectionists who broke into the capital on January 6 would have harmed Romney if they had the chance. Romney currently pays $5,000 a day for private security. He intends to retire in 2024 — and who can blame him?
FiveThirtyEight reported in 2020 that fewer moderate Republican candidates are winning nominations, and fewer feel like they fit in the GOP. The issue isn’t just political ideology though. Trumpified Republicans don’t merely have to embrace conservative policies. They have to believe that the 2020 election was stolen. They have to believe, contrary to all evidence, that Biden was engaged in corrupt business dealings in Ukraine. They have to think that shutting down the government will somehow end the numerous criminal proceedings against Trump.
In short, to be a successful GOP politician right now, you need to be a fool or a liar, or, preferably, both. And severing yourself from reality is not a great path to effective governance.
There’s a strong case that McCarthy is bad at effective governance. In one key loss during the shutdown crisis, McCarthy extended a vote in hopes that an absent Republican would show up. Instead, he actually lost ground when another Democrat showed up to vote against him. As political scientist Jeffrey Lazarus marveled in disbelief, this was “just a staggering display of legislative incompetence ... [Mark] Sanchez butt-fumble level.”
So, yes, Kevin McCarthy is, personally, an incompetent doofus. But his incompetence, and his doofusness, are also structural. The GOP these days — led by Trump, cocooned in right-wing media disinformation — elevates only the irresponsible and the ineffectual. McCarthy is done. But one thing seems certain; as bad as McCarthy was, the next GOP House speaker is likely to be worse.
That’s it for today
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