The far-far-right attempt to block House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy from becoming speaker of the House continues to build, but it’s running into one key difficulty: who to actually try to replace McCarthy with.
McCarthy can afford to lose just four Republican votes in his quest for speaker, and well over four Republicans are saying they won’t back him, in addition to more making threatening noises. Reps. Andy Biggs, Bob Good, Matt Gaetz, Matt Rosendale, and Ralph Norman have said they will not vote for him. Seven more—Reps. Scott Perry, Chip Roy, Dan Bishop, Andrew Clyde, and Paul Gosar, along with Reps.-elect Eli Crane and Andy Ogles—have laid out conditions for a speaker that would be very difficult for McCarthy to meet. And the Biggs-Good-Gaetz crew claims there are around 20 Republicans who will not vote for McCarthy.
That’s big, if true. It’s also a big if.
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But who would the extremists be rallying around? It’s not really going to be Biggs, the only person to so far officially announce a challenge to McCarthy, and the question is if there is anyone who could possibly be credible as a challenger.
The organizers of the anti-McCarthy effort are trying to paint the lack of names as a strategic choice. “We’re talking about who the other candidates are, who can get into it. Again, we’re not going to get it publicly throw those names out there because then the disinformation campaign is directed towards them, then the retaliatory efforts go towards them,” Good said on a right-wing radio show last week. Good has insisted that other candidates are quietly approaching him, ready to jump in when McCarthy falls short.
Biggs has made the same case, saying, “I think people realize … if somebody were to come out now and we didn’t deliver enough votes to stop Mr. McCarthy, that there would be a real potential for blowback. So I think that people are interested, they’ve expressed it to some of us.”
One thing that’s unlikely is a West Wing-esque unity candidate, with moderate Republicans and what would need to be an extremely large number of Democrats joining forces to elect a compromise speaker after McCarthy failed and as the extremists flailed. Because there just aren’t that many moderate Republicans, so a few Democratic crossovers willing to work with those people would be nowhere near enough. It’s a fun threat, though!
The most likely result is probably that McCarthy makes enough concessions to the Scott Perry-Chip Roy wing to lock down their votes, peels off one of the “definitely not voting for McCarthy” caucus—Norman is already softening his position on that a little, saying he’s a “no right now”—and staggers across the finish line. But if he does so, he’s set himself up almost as a speaker in name only, considering what he will have had to give away to get the title, and his weakness (even without concessions, McCarthy was always going to be a weak speaker) enables endless Republican infighting.
Unfortunately, Republicans can still hold the federal government hostage and gut the economy while they’re in confusion and disarray. And it’s clear that nothing is going to put the brakes on the lies and hate and outright incitement of violence coming from some House Republicans. So watching McCarthy suffer may be a small reward for the ugliness we’ll be living through at the same time.
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