Discover more from The Bulwark
Welcome to the MAGA Crackup
The incredible shrinking Kevin McCarthy
Well, Happy New Year to you, too.
Today was supposed to be the GOP’s celebration of the Red Wave, a moment of triumph and anticipation. Instead, we are likely to get a sh*tshow for the ages from an unruly, dysfunctional political party that is obviously not all that interested in governing.
On Day One, the new GOP majority’s vicious infighting — the sort of thing normally reserved for closed door meetings — will be on full delightful display.
Kevin McCarthy needs 218 (actually 217) votes to be elected speaker. But it seems increasingly likely that he will fall short on the first ballot, which marks the first time in a 100 years the House will have to hold multiple votes.
How much of a BFD is today’s vote? “A failed vote would badly weaken Mr. McCarthy or whoever the new speaker will be,” Brendan Buck writes in the NYT.
The House is a majoritarian institution, and a speaker’s power is ultimately derived from the ability to produce the 218 minimum votes needed to do business. If Republicans are unable to muster the votes for a speaker, it will make very clear from the outset they cannot be counted on to fulfill the body’s basic responsibilities, such as funding the government and preventing a credit default by lifting the debt ceiling, both of which will be required this year.
But, as Buck notes, “the agitators’ objective isn’t to win the speakership for one of their own; it is to weaken Mr. McCarthy or whoever emerges as the next speaker of the House. The embarrassment indeed may be the point.”
Well, yes, and it’s been a long time coming
By the end of what promises to be a very long day Kevin McCarthy will either (1) be narrowly elected with the votes of fabulist and accused felon George Santos, conspiracist MTG, and a handful of dissidents who hate his guts, or (2) he’s going to have to move his stuff out of the Speaker’s Office a day after prematurely moving it in.
So, it will be a fitting culmination of McCarthy’s years-long campaign of self-humiliation.
Time after time, the man who would be speaker tried to shrink himself into the office, and is ending his bid by offering multiple concessions to the bomb-throwers in the caucus who will hold him hostage if he survives. Even Newt Gingrich is alarmed by the shambles. “The precedent that sets is … any five people can get up and say, ‘Well, I’m now going to screw up the conference, too.’ The choice is Kevin McCarthy or chaos.”
But it’s chaos either way, isn’t it? McCarthy is a hollow man and a weak leader, and his caucus is now in the process of testing just how weak he is. One of the most powerful speakers in House history is about to be replaced by one of the puniest.
So this seems pertinent. (Here’s some context.):
The MAGA Crackup
Did you have the MTG vs. Lauren Boebert scragfight on your bingo card? If so, congratulations.
The two deplorables apparently detest one another and their rivalry burst into flames last month in the fight over McCarthy.
As a result of her alliance with McCarthy, Greene has found herself at odds with her former soulmates.
The belle of the fringe-right ball is increasingly facing friendly fire since throwing in her lot with House Speaker–wannabe Kevin McCarthy.
In an essay published last Wednesday in The Daily Caller, Greene accused a group of lawmakers who have dubbed themselves the “Never Kevin Five” of lying to voters when they claim that there will be a viable alternative candidate who can successfully challenge McCarthy for the Speaker’s gavel. “Lying to the base is a red line for me,” Greene wrote.
Never Kevin-er Andy Biggs fired back a few days later. “She’s kind of crossed the Rubicon there. She’s calling us liars and saying we’re misleading,” he said on Lindell TV. (Apparently, neither of these two avid conspiracy theorists and election deniers sees the irony here.)
But the harshest criticism came from Boebert.
"Well you know, I've been aligned with Marjorie and accused of believing a lot of the things that she believes in," Boebert said. "I don't believe in this, just like I don't believe in Russian space lasers, Jewish space lasers and all of this."
Greene shot back:
In her thread, Greene complained that Boebert didn't endorse Trump or McCarthy even after she "gladly takes our $$$" in getting re-elected.
"And she childishly threw me under the bus for a cheap sound bite," Greene added, in a likely reference to Boebert's "space lasers" quip.
"Americans expect conservative fighters like us to work together to Save America and that is the only mission I'm 100% devoted to, not high school drama and media sound bites," Greene said in a third tweet.
The tension between the two MAGA-loyalists has been building for some time. Back in April, Politico reported that Boebert “detests being tied to her Georgia colleague” and angrily confronted her “over Greene’s appearance at a February event organized by a known white nationalist.”
The run-in between Greene and Boebert is a microcosm of a bigger identity crisis that’s starting to take hold within the Freedom Caucus. A group founded with right-leaning policy ambition that later became a Donald Trump defense team is starting to split in important ways, from how to respond to this week’s Kevin McCarthy tapes to — more fundamentally — whether to reorient itself back to its limited-government roots.
The MAGA-splintering is also showing up in different areas as well. The fight for RNC chair is largely a MAGA-on-MAGA affair, and now we get this sort of thing:
Meanwhile, TFG is taking shots at his closest and most loyal allies: “Donald Trump Turns on His Own Supporters Over Abortion.”
In a post on Truth Social, the former president said that it "wasn't my fault" that the GOP failed to ride the expected "red wave" in November's elections, while pointing the finger for the poor election results at those in the party who pushed for severe abortion restrictions post Roe v. Wade.
All of this was, perhaps, inevitable.
“Jacobins always end up guillotining each other,” notes Nick Catoggio.
As the base splinters among candidates with differing degrees of revolutionary fervor in battling the “elites,” bitter recriminations among “sellouts” and “dead-enders” will metastasize.
But, with apologies to students of history everywhere, these are no Jacobins. January 6 was not Bastille Day and Trump is not Robespierre.
MAGA was always less revolutionary than it was performative. It’s a movement loosely tied together by vague symbols that were only occasionally related to policies: a passion for walls, hostility to immigrants, a willingness to believe conspiracy theories, a conflation of biblical imprecations with Truth Social rants, and various spasms of culture warfare. As it happens, it also had a genuine kink for executions, which can lead to a certain nostalgia for guillotining one’s opponents.
But MAGA’s only real connective tissue was anger, self-promotion, grift, nihilism, and cultish fluffery.
Take away the cult leader and all that’s left is the scramble for clicks, cash, attention, and spoils. Welcome to 2023.
Catching Up on January 6
Via the NYT: “Trying to Trademark ‘Rigged Election,’ and Other Revelations From the Jan. 6 Transcripts.”
WASHINGTON — The nation’s top military officer saw the Jan. 6 attack as similar to the “Reichstag moment” that led to Nazi dictatorship. Aides for former President Donald J. Trump saw their future job opportunities slipping away, and predicted being “perpetually unemployed.” Mr. Trump himself saw the push to overturn the 2020 election as a financial opportunity, moving to trademark the phrase “Rigged Election.”
These were among the latest revelations from the House Jan. 6 committee, which released a whirlwind of documents in its final days and wrapped up its work on Monday. Since Friday night, the panel has released several troves of evidence, including about 120 previously unseen transcripts along with emails and text messages obtained during its 18-month inquiry, totaling tens of thousands of pages.
The evidence touched on nearly every aspect of Mr. Trump’s push to overturn the 2020 election. It provided new details about how some of his top allies lobbied for aggressive plans to keep him in power, while others lamented how the dark day of Jan. 6, 2021, had negatively affected their employment prospects.
Via Politico: “Inside the Jan. 6 committee’s massive new evidence trove.”
The panel posted thousands of pages of evidence late Sunday in a public database that provide the clearest glimpse yet at the well-coordinated effort by some Trump allies to help Trump seize a second term he didn’t win. Much of the evidence has never been seen before and, in some cases, adds extraordinary new elements to the case the select committee presented in public — from voluminous phone records to contemporaneous text messages and emails.
Trump lawyers strategized which federal courts would be likeliest to uphold their fringe constitutional theories; Trump White House aides battled to keep unhinged theories from reaching the president’s ears; as the Jan. 6 attack unfolded, West Wing aides sent horrified messages about Trump’s incendiary tweets and inaction; and after the attack, some Trump allies discussed continued efforts to derail the incoming Biden administration.
1. Moderate Democrats Are the Future of the Party
Key victories for Senate and governor, new House leaders and the primary calendar shakeup advanced by President Joe Biden all reflect the reality that centrists in battleground states and districts are the party’s majority makers, as former Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls them. She needed them and didn’t care if they got elected by attacking her. “Just win, baby,” she would say.
As a strategic matter, it’s no secret why moderates are crucial. The Pew Research Center classifies only 6 percent of Americans and 12 percent of Democrats as “progressive left.” “Democratic mainstays,” the largest group in the party and the country, are older loyalists with “a moderate tilt on some issues,” in Pew’s phrase.
2. America’s True Divide: Pluralists vs. Zealots
Civic pluralists understand that ideas move the world more than power does, which is why pluralists value debate and persuasion. We believe America is great because it is good, and America is good because the country is committed to human dignity, even for those with whom we disagree. A continental nation of 330 million souls couldn’t possibly agree on everything, but we can hash out our disagreements in the communities where we live and the institutions we build. The small but important role of government, for the civic pluralist, is a framework for ordered liberty. Government doesn’t give us rights, or meaning, or purpose or permission. It exists to protect us from the whims of mobs and majorities.
Political zealots reject this, holding that society starts and ends with power. Government in their view isn’t to protect from the powerful or the popular. More than anything else, zealots—on the right and the left—seek total victory in the public square. They believe that the center of life is government power. They preach jeremiads of victimhood and decline. On the left, they want a powerful bureaucracy. On the right, they want a strongman. But they agree on a central tenet: Americans are too weak to solve problems with persuasion. They need the state to do it.
The zealots thrive in the chaos of the current moment…
3. The Misleading Makeup of the New Congress
Maybe the historically high number of black Republicans—four in the House and one in the Senate—holds some hope for our polarized politics? Sadly, here too, the news isn’t promising. Following a record number of black candidates running in Republican congressional primaries and the misunderstanding of the small uptick of black voters voting Republican in 2020, there was a sense on the right that it was making significant inroads among African Americans. Instead, the number of black Republicans signal the party’s embrace of a sort of minority exceptionalism, the opportunities created by a party where fealty to Trump rather than principled conservatism rules the day, and a defense against accusations of the party being racist (something Lindsey Graham has stated explicitly).