Kevin McCarthy’s ongoing humiliation as he loses vote after vote for speaker of the House is an attention-getting spectacle, but it’s not just about McCarthy himself. This is showing the absolute dysfunction of the Republican Party as a whole.
Yes, McCarthy is failing because he’s a terrible leader who is unqualified for the job of speaker—the very fact that he can’t get himself elected shows that he’s not going to be able to shepherd through difficult legislation—but he’s also failing because his party is a flaming hot mess. Even if you set aside the substance of the problems with a party filled with insurrectionists and election deniers and people who want to dismantle or shut down the government (kind of big things to set aside, but just as a mental exercise), they’re a disorganized flailing mess of backbiting and backstabbing and ego-driven posturing.
The saying used to be “Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line,” but then Republicans fell in love with Donald Trump and now they won't fall in line for anything, including Trump. Trump’s attempts to intercede in the speaker vote on McCarthy’s behalf are just the latest in his string of political losses, with Rep. Lauren Boebert talking on the House floor about how she had rejected his appeal.
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“Even having my favorite president call us and tell us we need to knock this off, I think it actually needs to be reversed,” Boebert said on Wednesday. “The president needs to tell Kevin McCarthy that, ‘Sir, you do not have the votes and it’s time to withdraw.’”
Steve Bannon echoed Boebert’s attempt to walk the line on loyalty to Trump and rejection of his preference in the speaker race. “I can tell you one thing: Trump’s base is 99.9 to 0.1 percent against McCarthy,” Bannon said. “His Truth posts had zero impact. People love him; they respect him. On this one, he’s just dead wrong.”
“The movement has eclipsed its Trump leadership,” right-wing talk radio host John Fredericks said as McCarthy lost and lost again despite Trump’s support. “We found 20 new leaders.”
It’s not just McCarthy who’s in trouble. Or, for that matter, Trump, with his fading sway over even loyalists like Boebert. Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel is facing internal criticism and a challenge for her title following Republican underperformance in November. In the Senate, Rick Scott challenged Mitch McConnell for the title of minority leader despite Scott’s evident failures as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. McConnell, for his part, spent McCarthy’s second day of humiliation in Kentucky … with President Joe Biden, touting infrastructure investments passed with some Republican votes in the Senate.
It’s unlikely there will be significant legislation like that coming out of the 118th Congress, given the rampant Republican dysfunction and McCarthy’s absolute inability to lead. There might be one or two things left that McConnell was willing to allow to overcome the filibuster, but if McCarthy squeaks through as a speaker beholden to the most extreme members of his party, he won’t be bringing them up in the House even if he personally wanted to. So far this month, he has shown that Senate Republicans who supported the December omnibus government funding bill because they doubted his ability to get stuff done were absolutely right not to wait for a Republican House to provide added leverage. It will be something like a miracle if this House can avoid taking down the entire federal government and possibly the global economy. Passing anything extra that has a chance of getting through the Senate and getting the president’s signature is difficult to imagine.
The rot in the Republican Party has been building for years. Right now, the veneer is coming off and the full extent of it is being revealed.
McCarthy's problem isn't the Freedom Caucus. It's the GOP who gave the House to them years ago
We don't know how this will end, but nobody can claim this Republican chaos was 'unexpected'
The Republican state of play: McCarthy snipes at McConnell, Senate Republicans patronize McCarthy (from December)