The Unlamented Former Speaker
It’s not exactly a surprise that Kevin McCarthy is no longer Speaker of the House, probably most of all to McCarthy himself. As a condition of his ascendance into that position, which took fifteen rounds of rather embarrassing haggling, he had to agree that a motion to vacate the position (i.e., his ability to get fired from the job) could be initiated by a single representative — and then it was, by Matt Gaetz, who was, as I understand it, one of those who demanded that condition in the first place. You can’t hand a dagger to a known and enthusiastic stabber and say “you can cut me any time you like,” and then be surprised when he, in fact, stabs you at his convenience. Don’t give a stabber a knife, a firebug a box of matches, or a sloppy drunk the keys to your car, especially when you’re riding shotgun without a seatbelt. Gaetz is all three of these things, when it comes to the House of Representatives. And he was waiting for his moment.
That said, very little of value has been lost with McCarthy’s demotion. He was, flatly, a terrible Speaker of the House, someone who wanted the position more than he had the capability to work it; a spineless, self-hobbled wretch at the mercy of the worst elements of the House GOP — most notably Gaetz, but, to be sure, not only Gaetz — who had no ability to control his caucus or keep his word to anyone. Incapable and untrustworthy is no way to go through life.
After McCarthy’s unseating, several Republican and/or conservative commentators wondered why the Democrats didn’t hand him a lifeline, and the answer to that was: Why should they have? He’d burned them often and pointedly offered no concessions for their cooperation during the motion to vacate. Anyway, they weren’t the ones who had offered the motion to vacate, that had been from the GOP side. They were under no obligation to save McCarthy from the trap he set for himself, nine months ago.
Which apparently came as a surprise to a number of Republicans! Including Gaetz himself, who noted prior to the vote on the motion to vacate that he expected at least some of the Democrats would vote to save McCarthy’s speakership rather than risk the chaos that would follow. This is the problem with the recent conservative trick of offering things up for a vote without the intention or expectation of winning, and then not having a plan for when you do win. Trump’s 2016 presidential run, the Brexit vote in the UK, this bit of chicanery: They were supposed to be useful bits of messaging, not actual things that were meant to happen. But then they did, and those who offered them for voting was caught flat-footed. We see the mess that Brexit and a Trump presidency have gotten us. This new nonsense is smaller, to be sure, but the dynamic is the same. Modern conservatives can’t govern; they can only signal. That’s the only thing they know how to do any more.
If the GOP actually wanted a speakership that was useful — and to keep itself from looking like a bunch of political dimwits setting fires just to watch things burn — they would offer up whoever in their party could still be considered moderate, which is almost no one, and promise the Democrats that they would stuff the Hastert Rule (i.e., nothing offered to vote that can’t pass with just GOP votes) into a box, put the box in a shredder, light the shreds on fire and throw the ashes into the sea. The chances of the modern GOP doing that, especially when the runaway front-runner for the GOP presidential candidacy is a fraud and a rapist currently indicted on 91 federal and state charges who actively chose to interfere with a peaceful transition of power rather than admit he was a loser, and who holds absolute sway over the party, are pretty slim. So maybe don’t count on that.
As for McCarthy, he’s already said he won’t run for speaker again, and who can blame him? He’s done it and for his pains he’s got stab wounds from one of the worst people in politics (for now; there’s a chance that the marginally-more-sensible members of the House will now vote to expel Gaetz, ostensibly on ethics charges but mostly for being a chaos demon in their midst. We’ll see). Like former speaker John Boehner, McCarthy probably came to the conclusion that trying to wrangle the box of feral weasels that is the modern House GOP is not worth the perks that come with the gig, especially as it is evident that he had neither the skill or spine for the job. That’s fine, and more than that, it’s the most sensible thing McCarthy could do at this point. Be all, “fuck all y’all, I’m going for a bike ride” and take some time for himself before going back to being an unremarkable back-bencher from Bakersfield.
We will eventually get a new Speaker of the House out of the GOP, although at this point I don’t know who there would want the gig, given they would be as susceptible to the whims of Matt Gaetz, or some other nihilistic chud, as McCarthy was. The GOP’s problems remain the same: They can’t govern, don’t know how to govern, and too many of their members in the House honestly have no interest in governing. They don’t have enough numbers to control those among them who just like starting fires. So they are going to burn.
Unfortunately, the rest of us are stuck in the same house they’ve gleefully set on fire. This is where we are in 2023, and with this GOP.