Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Herding Cats

Poor Kevin McCarthy.  He can’t herd his herd.

Was it worth it, Kevin? The Speakership of the House of Representatives, I mean. The long, excruciating session of the House back in January? Fifteen long, excruciating ballots, between which, you had to negotiate with people who have pinwheels in their eyes? All of it on television, as the Democrats sat back and blithely watched the auto da fe like rubberneckers at a train wreck? All of that pain and embarrassment so you could call yourself the Speaker of the House even though everybody and his Uncle Fud knew you couldn’t actually be Speaker? Is it all worth it now, when there are too many chickens and not enough roosts? Or, as Michelle Cottle put it in the New York Times on Tuesday:

The speaker is clearly fed up with being bullied by his radicals. But here’s the thing. Gaetz & Company have a point: Mr. McCarthy is out of compliance with several of his promises — or at least several they claim he made. (That’s the problem with secret back-room deals.) So if the rabble-rousers want to be taken seriously going forward, they need to stop all the chest-thumping. It’s time to step up and file the flipping motion. The extremists are easy to denounce, especially with their tendency to act out like unruly teens — or Lauren Boebert at “Beetlejuice.” But they are not to blame for the chaos consuming the House. It is Mr. McCarthy who led them to believe he would champion their policies and priorities. And it is Mr. McCarthy who elevated their influence in the conference, empowering them to wreak even greater havoc. Of course they are going to make more and more outrageous demands. That’s what they do.

Now, over the next two weeks, McCarthy actually has to be Speaker in order to make sure the government is funded for the next year. When he looks behind himself, there’s nobody there. The Democrats are sitting over in the corner, making more popcorn. To the members of his own narrow majority, McCarthy is now poison among the extremists for going back on the deals he made to become Speaker, and among the more marginally sane, he is now poison for having made those deals in the first place. And Rep. Lauren Boebert seems to be the only one capable of reaching across the aisle. From Politico:

More than a dozen Republicans, mostly [Rep. Byron] Donalds’ colleagues in the conservative Freedom Caucus, are publicly torching the spending plan he brokered. With just a four-seat majority, Speaker Kevin McCarthy can only afford to lose a handful of them given that he can’t count on Democratic votes — leaving the GOP bill effectively dead. But beneath the surface, things are even worse for McCarthy this time around. The faceplant by the two negotiators he’d empowered has exposed a full-on House Republican rebellion that’s officially underway. It’s bigger than a clash between the centrist and right wings of the party. The Freedom Caucus itself is divided, with many members swatting down a plan backed by their own leader. Many of those conservatives are now openly threatening to try to oust McCarthy if he relies on Democratic votes to avoid a shutdown, but they’re also withholding their support from the only Republican plan on paper.

The headlong radicalization of American conservatism, a process born in Newt Gingrich’s rise to power in the 1990’s, was bound to immolate the primary vehicle of its political ambitions sooner or later. The logical end of being fed red meat constantly is cannibalism. And that’s the evolutionary stage of American conservatism at which McCarthy, that sap, finds himself now. And Rep. Victoria Spartz of Indiana, one of the few truly eccentrics left in the Republican caucuse, unloaded on McCarthy from what passes for the GOP middle these days. From the New York Times:

“The Republican House is failing the American people again and pursuing a path of gamesmanship and circus,” Representative Victoria Spartz, Republican of Indiana, said in a statement. “Neither Republicans nor Democrats have the backbone to challenge the corrupt swamp that is bankrupting our children and grandchildren. It is a shame that our weak speaker cannot even commit to having a commission to discuss our looming fiscal catastrophe.”

Time was when the rebellion against a Speaker was an in-house matter. That’s how George Norris and his colleagues broke the power of “Uncle Joe” Cannon in 1910. Gingrich’s fall from grace more closely parallels McCarthy’s plight. After the Republicans found their House majority narrowed because Gingrich hung the midterms of the Lewinsky scandal, the members of his caucus rose up against him and, by January of 1999, Gingrich was out of elected politics forever. But Gingrich had entered into office in triumph, having engineered the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, the first GOP majority in that body since 1954. That gave him a couple of years of cred that McCarthy never had. And even Gingrich got played by Bill Clinton during the government shutdown in 1995, the first sign that Gingrich’s power had begun to crack. Kevin McCarthy never even had that moment. Actual power has always been a stranger to him.

Boo-effing-hoo.  But the real problem is that they have a country to run and they’re too wrapped up in their middle-school clique high-jinks to actually do their job.

The real tragedy is that they will probably keep control of the House because they know how to herd sheep.