In a recent surreal interview, ousted Speaker Kevin McCarthy blamed the Democrats for the chaos in the House of Representatives. (He wasn’t the only GOP official trying to sell that bill of goods.) The public isn’t buying it. Let’s be clear. McCarthy lost his Speakership because his transactional style of acquiring and maintaining power made him untrustworthy to Republicans and Democrats alike. And the Faustian bargain he made with Matt Gaetz and his little band of far-right arsonists to win the gavel came back to haunt McCarthy. Now, if Jim Jordan becomes Speaker, he will have done so because the craven Republican majority has the votes to make him speaker, consequences for democracy be damned.
Let us please remember that the Republicans are in the majority and shouldn’t have needed any Democratic support to pick the speaker. As far as we know, McCarthy, fearful of his extreme right, never seriously asked for Democratic help. Instead he excoriated them in partisan terms.
Spare me the crocodile tears. If the shoe were on the other foot, and if the Squad+ had tried to take down Nancy Pelosi, how many Republicans would have broken away from their party to save her Speakership? And how many Republicans would have joined Seth Moulton’s effort to take it away from her and find an alternative Democrat?
So, what would the Democrats have asked in return? They would never have demanded to elect Hakeem Jeffries as speaker. They knew and freely acknowledged their party had lost the 2022 House election.
Just what might McCarthy have promised the Democrats? Possibly some adjustments to the Rules committee and a promise not to block votes on bills that had majority support from both parties. But even that would have involved an unwarranted leap of faith because McCarthy himself has proven so untrustworthy, so willing to placate repeatedly the most extremist MAGAs in his caucus.
His mendacity and broken promises go well beyond his history of criticizing Trump for his January 6 behavior only to prostrate himself at Mar a Lago, or going from supporting an independent January 6 commission to trying to scuttle the work of the House investigation. Remember the Pentagon funding bill that came out of committee with nearly unanimous support, that McCarthy permitted to be laced with culture war riders that would doom it in the Senate? In May, he agreed with Biden and the Senate to a debt and budget deal providing 2-year financing but, weeks later, scandalously reneged on the deal at the behest of the Gaetz gang.
Finally, let’s not forget McCarthy’s insistence that a Biden impeachment inquiry would only proceed after a full vote, but then it didn’t, and he allowed an impeachment inquiry that even many Republicans said was totally lacking in evidence.
Instead of taking steps to lance the boil of MAGA election deniers, McCarthy elevated them to positions of power. And the saner members of the GOP caucus, the so-called institutionalists, have meekly gone along. Fearful of being primaried and called out by the likes of Sean Hannity, 90 percent of the Republican caucus is now willing to turn the gavel over to Jim Jordan, known in his own party as a “legislative terrorist,” without any qualification for such an important role. If successful, this could place an active participant in Trump’s strategy to overturn the election and prevent the peaceful transfer of power, an enemy of our Constitutional democracy, third in the line of succession to the Presidency.
Even if a small group succeeds in blocking Jordan’s ascent now, the outcome of this battle is still uncertain. Historically, countries that survive autocratic assaults depend on whether “mainstream parties unite with their traditional opponents to block the extremists from power.” Here, one of our two major parties is itself in thrall to the extremists and nearly one-third (31%) of Trump supporters agree that “democracy is no longer a viable system and that the country should explore alternative forms of government to ensure stability and progress.”
Sadly, Profiles in Courage is a very thin volume.