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Donald Trump is losing juice
The speaker fiasco is a debacle for McCarthy. It's also an embarrassment for Trump.
Kevin McCarthy has now failed in 11 successive votes to become speaker of the House. Taking L after L after L like that is a public humiliation unprecedented in modern American history. It’s so bad that you’d be tempted to feel bad for McCarthy if he stood for anything more than posturing and the empty pursuit of power.
The bottom line is the “red wave” that was supposed to deliver Republicans a huge House majority last November didn’t materialize, and as a result McCarthy doesn’t have the luxury of losing votes from the likes of Lauren Boebert, Matt Gaetz, and Bob Good. You’d think an endorsement from a former president and 2024 presidential candidate who remains beloved by the far right of the party could move the needle at least a little bit. But Donald Trump doesn’t seem to have juice like that anymore.
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Early Wednesday, after McCarthy had already failed on three ballots the day before, Trump posted a statement on Truth Social urging House Republicans to “VOTE FOR KEVIN” and “CLOSE THE DEAL.”
A statement like that in a previous era might’ve scared Republicans into doing what Trump wanted. But his McCarthy endorsement ultimately swayed zero votes. Twenty House Republicans opposed McCarthy on Tuesday, and 20 continued to oppose him on Wednesday and Thursday.
Many of Trump’s endorsements in November’s general elections blew up in his face — remember Dr. Oz and Herschel Walker? — but he’s still been a kingmaker in Republican primaries. That his endorsement of McCarthy proved to be totally impotent may be a reflection of the fact we’re still a long way from the 2024 cycle, but it also suggests his ability to dominate Republican politics isn’t what it was just a few months ago.
Thursday got even more embarrassing for Trump as the day went along. With McCarthy still losing 20 Republican votes after 10 ballots, Matt Gaetz finally stood up and made a move that had been the subject of speculation for months, officially nominating Trump for the speakership with a speech will probably be best remembered for his savage burns of McCarthy for moving into the speaker’s office before he earned it.
Shortly before Gaetz nominated him, Trump posted a trollish image on Truth Social of himself in the speaker’s seat during a Biden State of the Union speech, so it’s not as though he was totally opposed to the idea. The New York Times’ Maggie Haberman and Michael Bender reported that “some of Mr. Trump’s allies had been discussing [nominating him for speaker] privately for days.”
Here was House Republicans’ chance to ditch McCarthy and the obscure alternative speaker nominees on offer and rally behind the guy who many of them were willing to end US democracy for just two years ago. But as it turned out the only one who voted for Trump was Gaetz. And when that result was announced by the presiding clerk, members broke out in laughter. It was a joke.
Coming as it did a day before the second anniversary of the January 6 insurrection, Trump’s flop of a speaker nomination starkly illustrated his diminished state within a party that was little more than his cult of personality not so long ago.
Trump’s influence has waned to the point that Republicans who are still in good standing with the party and once worked for him — such Rep.-elect Ryan Zinke, Trump’s former (and scandal-plagued) Secretary of the Interior — are going on cable news and acknowledging the writing on the wall.
Trump, meanwhile, spent most of the day Thursday trying to get people to care about a new “plan to destroy the drug cartels” he posted on Truth Social. Tellingly, it received very little pickup from the mainstream press.
Ultimately, Republican primary voters will decide Trump’s fate, and despite some recent polls showing Ron DeSantis leading, most of them still indicate Trump is the frontrunner. But the events of this week show that the red wave that wasn’t didn’t just diminish McCarthy — it also diminished Trump. The two share in the embarrassment of McCarthy’s historically botched speaker bid because both of them are responsible for the fact that the GOP House majority is so narrow, unruly, and extremist.
Trump used to talk about how under his leadership, the country would get tired of winning. But after three straight poor electoral showings in 2018, 2020, and last November, it appears his party is getting tired of him.
Katherine Clark killed it Thursday. Republicans? Not so much.
House Minority Whip Katherine Clark began Thursday with a news conference in which she spit fire, noting that “House Democrats are united behind our leader, Hakeem Jeffries, and in the fight for lower costs, green jobs, and safer communities. House Republicans are in historic turmoil — unable to organize, unable to govern, unable to lead.”
“Years of blindly pursuing power, currying the favor of special interests, and bowing to election deniers has left the GOP in shambles,” she added. And she’s not wrong.
Clark was just getting started. A few hours later, she delivered a nomination speech on Jeffries’s behalf that I think was easily the most compelling of any delivered on the House floor Thursday.
Clark ticked through all of the important legislative items Republicans have resisted in recent years — everything from lowering health care costs to preventing gun violence to protecting the environment — and then said each of them, “They said no!”
“We will stand with the American people. It is our job and our responsibility to elect a speaker who stand with them, and with great pride I nominate Hakeem Jeffries,” she concluded, and got a huge standing ovation.
The whole thing is worth watching:
Republican speeches, by contrast — well, suffice it to say they paled in comparison. They ranged from the bizarre …
… to the farcical …
… to the unintentionally hilarious.
Beyond the floor speeches, another consequence of all of the attention being paid to House Republicans this week is that they’re getting TV bookings they wouldn’t normally get. Some of them aren’t going well. Lauren Boebert had a pretty rough go on Stephanie Ruhle’s MSNBC show Wednesday, but she was great in comparison to Troy Nehls, who managed to offend CNN host Erin Burnett twice in one clip on Thursday by condescendingly calling her “a young lady” and then seconds later referring to CNN as “the Clinton News Network.”
You’d hope voters in New York state and elsewhere who helped give Republicans a House majority are feeling some buyer’s remorse. These people shouldn’t be in charge of your local skating rink, not to mention crafting legislation that affects 332 million people.
But that’s water under the bridge. Now, it’s up to Democrats to stay united, force concessions from Republicans if they’re truly unable to identify a GOP speaker candidate who can get 218 votes, and make damn sure that voters remember this clown show when they’re casting their ballots in November of next year.
That’s it for this week
I’ll be back with more Monday. Have a great weekend, and if you haven’t already, please support this work by subscribing to the newsletter. Cheers.