For years, Kevin McCarthy wanted in the worst possible way to become Speaker of the House, and that’s exactly what he achieved, winning the leadership post after 15 humiliating rounds of voting and days of giveaway negotiations.
McCarthy may once have dreamed of stepping forward boldly to claim the mantle of a robust Republican majority.
Instead, McCarthy crawled into the speakership on his hands and knees early Saturday as the GOP was barely in control and the chamber was in chaos.
He has ceded so much to enemies — effective veto power over legislation that must pass, greater say in committee assignments, the possibility of a single dissident triggering a vote on his overthrow — that McCarthy will continue his shaky tenure while it lasts. will spend to stay balanced a razor blade. One nod and he’s gone.
Far more disturbing, McCarthy’s cowardly concessions leave the country hostage for the next two years to an extreme fringe of far-right zealots who threaten to upend the normal workings of government and such typical grunts – as raising the debt ceiling to avoid defaults and economic disaster – a cliffhanging Drama.
McCarthy’s deep humiliation might be seen as cruel, a snub from fellow lawmakers whose power was made possible by the Bakersfield Republican’s years of hard work as grand strategist and chief campaigner for the House GOP. But the drop-drop torture of lengthy voting was so egregiously self-inflicted, so lurid in the making, and so utterly well-deserved, that it is impossible to muster even the slightest sympathy.
McCarthy’s uselessness has been well documented and further accounting need not be drawn out. One example stands out: The outrage he expressed at then-President Trump for breaking the 19.6 riot quickly melted not only into acceptance but into outright surrender as McCarthy rushed to Mar-a-Lago to order to ask forgiveness for daring to hold the tyrant of the Oval Office accountable for a brief moment.
There are marshmallows made from stricter stuff.
But McCarthy has long been guided by one thing, and one thing only: seizing power (by whatever means) and rising to leadership positions almost beyond his reach.
Politics was never McCarthy’s forte. There is no landmark legislation bearing his thumbprint, no law emanating from the wellspring of his intellect. Campaigning and voting was his only skill, and personal connections his great specialty: the back-slapping, cheery applause that made the nine-year-old congressman sympathetic enough to other Republicans, but not someone they particularly respected.
While there’s nothing wrong with that—there’s not much you can do in politics without making friends and winning elections—it was never much more than that. McCarthy has proven himself a trustworthy man, his spine pliable, his values pliable, his beliefs pliable open to change.
There are weather vanes with more fixed positions.
As a legislator in Sacramento, when moderate Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in charge, McCarthy struggled to keep GOP extremists at bay. As a member of Congress and a key recruiter of Republican candidates, he joined the GOP fringe, beginning with the far-right “tea party” movement and continuing under the QAnon-hugging Trump.
McCarthy helped bring a fire-breathing strain of anti-government and anti-establishment radicals into the GOP tent, and then almost lost his end of the bargain when they turned against him.
The flattery McCarthy might have offered the horse trade on his way to becoming speaker — fancy titles, perks, a fundraising gig — meant little to the Republican holdouts, who would love nothing more than to burn Washington to the ground.
In the end, the willingness to castrate himself was the price McCarthy was forced to pay, and sadly he willingly proved.
There’s an epithet thrown at those in the GOP who are considered less than 100% pure: Republicans in name only. Eagerly slipping into a straitjacket of his own design, McCarthy has earned the dubious distinction of becoming speaker in name only.
His rudderless soul and clumsy miscalculation stand in striking contrast to his recent predecessor, Nancy Pelosi.
While the San Francisco Democrat never ruled her caucus as the bug-eyed liberal of popular parody, she was guided by a bone-deep set of left-leaning beliefs that contributed to a string of triumphs, including passing Obamacare after many in her party had given up. Last but not least, firm guiding principles also helped organize the unruly squad on their side of the aisle.
All McCarthy could demonstrate in his clumsy grasp for power was a boundless ability to be pushed around and surrender to blackmail. He won with barely a vote to spare.
Ultimately, McCarthy had to fight to win the long-awaited award because he was too obviously ambitious and too obviously transactional — which is saying something in an institution fueled by ambition and where back-scratching has been elevated to a high art form.
“Kevin McCarthy is not a conservative,” said Virginia Rep. Bob Good, one of the original and most ardent of the Nie McCarthy Republicans, told Politico ahead of the speakership vote. “He kind of swims with what’s politically expedient.”
McCarthy paid off his integrity long ago.
Unfortunately, the country must now pay the price.