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Kevin McCarthy’s Hat Trick of Humiliation
“You’re supposed to throw the grenade after you pull the pin. They pulled the pin and passed the grenade around!” —James Carville
Historians should note that the party that lost control of the House brought popcorn to the ceremony. The party that “won” blew itself up. And then did it again. And again. And then left for a night of pizza, bitterness, and recriminations. Meanwhile, the MAGA crackup accelerated as crackpots fought with nihilists, wingnuts pointed fingers at extremists, and grifters started slap-fights with one another.
After losing on three consecutive ballots (and seeing his GOP opposition grow from 19 to 20), McCarthy last night vowed to fight on. His strategy? Apparently, the he is counting on the party’s actual bosses — Tucker, Sean, and Ben — to sort things out.
Of course this raises the question: Where is Trump in all of this? This is, after all, still his party. And he is its leader? Right?
Over at Puck, Tara Palmeri notes that “One of the cruel ironies of all this is that McCarthy, who went to extraordinary lengths to placate Trump, is being stymied by card-carrying members of his MAGA movement. And where is Trump in McCarthy’s hour of need?” This morning he issued a ALL CAPS endorsement.
But it’s unclear whether it will actually make a difference. This detail from Palmeri’s report is fascinating.
I’m told from sources close to him that he’s been burning up the phone for McCarthy, but his pleas don’t seem to be making any impact. Even Trump loyalist Matt Gaetz hasn’t been moved. Instead, I’m told, the recipients of Trump’s calls have rebutted his request to support Kevin with relentless flirtation and flattery, Trump’s ultimate love language, such as suggesting that he should be speaker. Naturally, this deactivated and neutralized the ’24 presidential candidate.
Although McCarthy insists that Trump is still in his corner, the reality is that Trump would have no qualms about tossing him under the bus. Not because he doesn’t like his Kevin, but because he doesn’t give a sh*t and he hates losing. Writes Palmeri:
Truthfully, Trump doesn’t really care who leads the House. But he’s a Republican candidate for president trying to prove that he’s the leader of the party, so he had to weigh in, even if those close to him wished he didn’t. Is this all a sign that the MAGA movement has advanced beyond Trump, and even beyond Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jim Jordan, who support McCarthy? Unclear. But it is a sign that Trump has lost his juice. “He likes the perks of being party leader, but he doesn’t take the responsibility seriously at all,” said a former Trump advisor who believes that a more motivated former commander-in-chief could have quelled the McCarthy rebellion with a sit-down at Mar-a-Lago. “He doesn’t give a crap. He’s not engaged enough. He should have fixed this instead of trading cards and playing golf.”
In other words, if you have been wondering what a post-Trump GOP will look like . . . well, here you go.
So we wake up this morning without a new speaker. Nobody really knows what comes next, but none of it’s good for this guy, who has become the avatar of GOP cowardice, surrender, and humiliation.
For those of you following along at home, here’s a quick overview of the devolution of the Republican Party. Eric Cantor was defeated in the primary, Paul Ryan flamed out under Trump, and McCarthy just became the first party leader to lose a floor vote for speaker in 100 years. These guys were once the party’s future. Now they are just footnotes and roadkill.
But this also suggests that the problem isn’t just McCarthy and his burn-it-all-down critics. It’s systemic:
EXIT TAKE: “Under the new rules of Crazytown, I may have been Speaker, but I didn’t hold all the power . . . the chaos caucus in the House had built up their own power base thanks to fawning right-wing media and outrage-driven fundraising cash.” –John Boehner
“It Couldn’t Happen to a Nicer Guy.”
You will not be surprised to learn that the Bulwark is all over this story.
On the surface, it looks like the firebrands and zealots are in revolt against the GOP “establishment.” But the reality is that the Republican establishment is deader than dead. It’s hard to date its demise with precision, but January 6, 2021 is a good marker. That was a second date that should live in infamy; a date when, following a violent assault on the Capitol, two-thirds of the Republican caucus voted with the mob. The battle unfolding over the speakership is not between the extremists and the establishment. It’s between two camps of extremists.
McCarthy, like all of the members of the Freedom Caucus who are attempting to thwart him, refused to certify Joe Biden’s victory in the Electoral College. Like the Freedom Caucus, McCarthy has faithfully repeated the lie about the 2020 election being stolen. Like them, he has fanned the flames of conspiracism, pushed for an end to the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, helped Harriet Hageman defeat Liz Cheney in the Wyoming primary, and enfolded Marjorie Taylor Greene in a great bear hug….
Our new national political reporter Joe Perticone has this dispatch from the House floor yesterday:
Just behind the podium in the lobby of the House chamber, The Bulwark overheard a group of Texas Republicans arguing amongst themselves about why the party’s hardliners in the Freedom Caucus get to claim the mantle of being most conservative.
“What about them is more conservative?” Crenshaw asked Rep. Michael Cloud, one of the Jordan supporters, adding, “We have the same fucking scores they do.”
When Cloud laughed—along with Reps. Michael McCaul and Wesley Hunt—Crenshaw replied, “I’m not fucking joking.”
Later, Crenshaw told The Bulwark that Cloud “gets upset because I ask him, like, what would you want? You know, that’s it.”
Crenshaw suggested the Republican hardliners’ tactics are rooted in a fundamental misunderstanding of how to legislate.
“They always think they’re fighting for some principle. But what they always end up doing in practical terms is forcing more compromises with Democrats than we otherwise would have had to do,” he said. “They can’t explain—they cannot grasp this concept no matter how many times you show them. They cannot grasp this concept. So you’re not dealing with rational people sometimes.”
Tim Miller was unsympathetic to Crenshaw: “Never Trumpers Understood Kevin McCarthy’s Conference Better Than He Did.”
McCarthy and Crenshaw and their ilk convinced themselves that they could throw in with the world’s biggest grifter, tell lie after lie (after lie) to their own voters, campaign for a boat of shithouse rats so crazy that they make yesterday’s crazies blush—and at the end be rewarded with their loyal support.
Their time was going to come eventually. For My Kevin, it appears that time is today.
The Ukraine War in Its Second Winter—and Beyond
Cathy Young writes in today’s Bulwark: The Russian invasion in 2022 was almost beyond satire. The outlook for 2023 is grim but not hopeless.
So much in this war depends on the human factor that any predictions would be foolhardy: For instance, opinions among Russia-watchers differ wildly on whether the Putin regime is in danger of a challenge either from grassroots protests or from intra-elite conflict if the current fiasco continues to worsen in 2023. Nor do we know what new stranger-than-fiction stories from Russia’s war in Ukraine will be coming our way in the next twelve months. What’s certain is that Ukraine will remain the battlefield where the forces of freedom face off against the forces of tyranny—and a place where, as Zelensky said in remarks addressed to Russians on New Year’s Eve, one man is not only ravaging a neighboring country but destroying his own with no purpose but to preserve his power.