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The Fall of Kevin McCarthy
.... was inevitable.
We wake up today to a Republican Party in disarray, bitterly divided, at war with itself, and seemingly shocked that nurturing and appeasing its lunatic fringe could end this badly.
If only they had been warned.
For the first time in the nation’s history, a sitting speaker of the House has been ousted; and Kevin McCarthy now has the historic distinction of having the shortest tenure with the gavel since the guy who died of tuberculosis in 1876.
McCarthy, who so desperately wanted that title and the portrait — and who made one surrender after another to get them — will now be remembered merely as an asterisk, if even that.
Indeed, Kevin would be a tragic figure, if he were not so utterly and clownishly pathetic. His tenure was marked by serial humiliations, each paving the way to his thoroughly undignified downfall. “Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, the crocodile will eat him last,” Winston Churchill once quipped. “All of them hope that the storm will pass before their turn comes to be devoured.”
On Tuesday, it was Kevin’s turn. And he made a particularly noisome morsel.
In the end, McCarthy’s abbreviated speakership was done in by the defection of eight right-wing Republicans. He could have been rescued by the Democrats, but their message was unanimous and unambiguous: Drop Dead, Kevin.
So, McCarthy became the latest victim of the MAGA-ization of his party. Despite all of Kevin’s groveling, Trump didn’t lift even a single tiny finger to save him. For the Orange God King, it was perfectly on-brand.
But ultimately what happened yesterday was McCarthy’s own doing. In the end he had made himself into the hollow man, unloved, and distrusted.
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Remember when Kevin was the future of his party? Along with Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor?
McCarthy lasted longer than others because he was prepared to crawl more aggressively. For a time, it seemed as if his lack of fixed principles and his willingness to self-geld would make him a survivor.
In the end, though, his lack of a moral core caught up with him.
Some pundits are suggesting that Democrats should have been “the adults in the room” and rescued McCarthy. But this is piffle on stilts, because there was nothing adult about Kevin’s short and lamentable reign, and it would have been pointless for the Democrats to pretend it was worth propping up. Let’s review some of the key moments in his fall:
After the 2020 election, McCarthy rushed to secure his right-flank by joining with election denialists, endorsing a bogus legal challenge to the outcome. Even after the January 6 attack on the Capitol, he voted against certifying the election.
McCarthy initially said that Trump was responsible for the riot, but days later rushed to pay obeisance in Mar-a-Lago, giving the seditionist former president a thumbs up and a political lifeline.
When Liz Cheney appealed to the conscience of her fellow Republicans, McCarthy purged her from leadership and then orchestrated her primary defeat.
He repeatedly tried to undermine and sabotage attempts to investigate the January 6 Insurrection, reversing his support for a bipartisan commission under pressure from MAL.
During his 15-vote bid for the speakership, McCarthy laid the seeds of his ouster, as he made one concession after another to the radicals in his caucus. He publicly embraced and empowered fringe figures like Marjorie Taylor Greene. Maybe he thought that would buy him protection from the fever swamps. He was wrong.
“I will never leave that woman,” McCarthy told a friend, according to The New York Times. “I will always take care of her.”
McCarthy aggressively courted right-wing media types like Tucker Carlson, and gave 1/6 security footage exclusively to the soon-to-be-fired Fox News host.
In his dealing with Democrats, he repeatedly reversed course and broke his word. He backed the microchips manufacturing bill last year but then whipped his party to vote against it.
As The Wapo reported yesterday: “McCarthy backed out of a spending agreement he made with President Biden as part of a deal to lift the debt limit less than two weeks after Biden signed the law in an attempt to placate the furious conservatives in his conference. Democrats on the House floor on Saturday chanted, ‘Keep your word!’”
As he sought to appease the radicals, he opened an impeachment inquiry against Joe Biden, without holding the floor vote he promised. The result has been a deplorable clown show.
And, while he finally worked with Democrats to keep the government open, he enraged them by refusing to give them 72 hours to read the short-term spending bill. “Democrats were given just minutes to read it and vote on it despite asking Republican leadership for more time. (Democrats deployed stalling tactics to get about two hours to read and discuss the bill.)”
“On Sunday, McCarthy went on CBS’s “Face the Nation” and charged Democrats with wanting a shutdown. That infuriated Democrats, who voted nearly unanimously for the government spending bill when fewer than half of Republicans did.” At their caucus meeting Tuesday, Democrats played a tape of McCarthy’s remarks, which clearly helped to seal his fate.
Belatedly, Kevin is noticing some things. At his swan-song post-defeat press conference last night, he said of the MAGA loyalists who ousted him: "They don’t get to say they’re conservatives because they’re angry and they’re chaotic. … They are not conservatives. They do not have a right to have the title.”
Others actually seemed puzzled about why this is happening to their party:
Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-ND) complains: "The incentive structure in this town is completely broken... we have descended to a place where clicks, TV hits and the neverending quest for the most mediocre taste of celebrity drives decisions and encourages juvenile behavior.”
Really? How long as this been going on? And could it possibly have something to do with… this guy?
For the moment, chaos reigns, dysfunction is the order of the day, and the knives are out for the most hated man in Congress: Matt Gaetz. As it enters uncharted territory, the post-Kevin GOP also doubled down on pettiness. As his first order of business as acting speaker, Patrick McHenry ordered former Speaker Nancy Pelosi to vacate her Capitol hideaway office by today.
We turn to our evergreen question: What could possibly go wrong?
Shortly after McCarthy was removed from the position, Representative Troy Nehls of Texas—who sided with the majority of Republicans in voting against McCarthy's removal—announced that he intends to nominate Trump to the role as soon as possible.
"When the U.S. House of Representatives reconvenes, my first order of business will be to nominate Donald J. Trump for Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives," Nehls said in a statement.
"President Trump, the greatest President of my lifetime, has a proven record of putting America First and will make the House great again," he added.
Today, McCarthy ought to be asking himself: Was it worth it? Peter Wehner writes in the Atlantic:
In Robert Bolt’s A Man for All Seasons, Sir Thomas More has an exchange with Richard Rich, an ambitious young man whom More, early in the play, warns against getting into politics. Rich doesn’t possess the moral fortitude to resist the temptations that accompany a political life. It isn’t so much that Rich is bad; it’s that he’s weak.
Rich eventually betrays More, and in one of the play’s most famous lines, More tells Rich, “Why, Richard, it profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world ... but for Wales!”
Kevin McCarthy gave up his soul not for Wales but for something worse—Donald Trump. It will be of little comfort to McCarthy to know that he’s hardly the only one to have done so.
Dana Milbank: The Chair Is Already Vacant
On our pre-defenestration podcast yesterday, The Wapo’s Dana Milbank and I previewed the looming fall of Kevin. Meanwhile, Trump is much more angry about being seen as less rich than potentially going to prison.
“I think at night, when the lights are turned off, Abe Lincoln and Ronald Reagan have some pretty choice words to say about the fact that they have to hang on Kevin McCarthy’s wall. They did some fucking above-average things.
And they’ve got to adorn the wall of this fucking weasel bitch named Kevin McCarthy, with his fake fucking spray-on tan, whose fucking claim to fame, at least in my eyes, is the fact that he amassed a collection of Donald Trump’s favorite-flavored Starburst, put them in a Mason jar, and presented them to fucking Donald Trump. What the fuck, dude?”