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Open Thread: Did the House Dodge a Bullet With McCarthy?

Last week, the House Republicans were plunged into disarray when House Majority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the presumptive favorite, withdrew from the speakership race. It seemed he was already facing a troubled road to succeed out-going Speaker John Boehner, given that the House Freedom Caucus–a 40-member block–was going to vote for Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) for the top spot; McCarthy had reportedly refused to give in to their demands. That, coupled with the possibility of relying on Democrats for his victory, along with his comments about the House Select Committee on Benghazi–he said it was sinking Hillary’s poll numbers–crippled any notion that he could move the House forward in any direction. Democrats seized on his remarks proposing an amendment and a privileged resolution to dissolve the committee­. Both failed on party-line votes. Yet, the damage was done, and McCarthy exited the stage.The possibility that Republicans might have to solicit Democratic votes (just awful optics) for the next speaker remains open, as Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) alluded to in the midst of McCarthy's withdrawal.


Guy mentioned the rather depressing scenario House Republicans are in with McCarthy’s withdrawal. There’s a very short list of candidates who want the top spot given the headaches that comes with it. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) can’t move because he needs to restore the credibility that McCarthy torpedoed with his awful remarks. Rep. Paul Ryan is happy where he is, but is getting pressure from Boehner to run for speaker. Ryan spoke with his former running mate Mitt Romney as well, though the latter did not pressure him into running. The worst scenario that could possibly come out of this, as Guy noted, was an interim speaker, which would be disastrous for fundraising and would set a horrible narrative: Republicans cannot govern … at all.

Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post said that the conservative activist base's threat to the establishment is real, and the sooner the latter realizes this the better:

Given all of that, it never made any sense for McCarthy to move up to speaker -- or, for that matter, Steve Scalise of Louisiana to move up to majority leader. In a party whose base is sending a clear message that they are sick and tired of the status quo, the idea of simply moving each member of leadership up a slot was insane.

And the argument for McCarthy -- when weighed against the anger and passion against the establishment coursing through the base -- was feeble. The members like him! He texts them on their birthdays! He's been to their districts! Dick Cheney endorsed him! None of that was a match for the fundamental belief -- within the base and among Republican politicians trying to channel that base -- that McCarthy was part of the problem, not the solution. He was doomed to have an ending like this -- no matter the extenuating personal circumstances that might have also influenced the lack of support for him.


This threat to the establishment from the conservative activist base is real. The sooner the establishment realizes it -- and the resignation of Boehner/demise of McCarthy should help them get it -- the better chance they will have to combat it. But, I also think that the possibility exists that the establishment doesn't have the ability to put down this revolution. Which is an amazing thing to ponder as the country gets ready to elect a new president in 13 months time.


Adding to the argument side for McCarthy came from Cillizza’s colleague Dave Weigel, who wrote that the “chaos” in the House GOP is a good thing since the gentleman from California wasn’t a good Majority Whip–and that states of anarchy have led to good things for House Republicans in the past:

McCarthy, a "young gun" Republican organizer who helped the party recruit much of its winning 2010 class, was less a manager and more a Doctor Frankenstein. McCarthy presided over -- sorry, whipped -- a failed extension of the Patriot Act, a failed extension of the payroll tax cut, a failed attempt to raise the debt limit, a failure to pass the GOP's preferred "fiscal cliff" rescue, a failed attempt to pass the farm bill. The default drama of McCarthy's whip tenure was that Republicans would prep a vote, someone would realize that they were short, and crisis would ensue until someone wrote up a compromise that would allow Democrats to bail out a rump of the GOP.


What will be the long-term impact of McCarthy's faceplant? If previous leadership crises tell us anything, the GOP might be better off. The 1998 impeachment debacle that took down both Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and would-be-speaker Bob Livingston (La.) produced Dennis Hastert (Ill.), who colorlessly led the House GOP through three election wins and created a separation from the past that helped George W. Bush rebrand the party. His closest competitor: Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), whose 2002 ascension to minority leader made some Democrats wonder if the party would seem hopelessly, un-electably left-wing.

The GOP is in a better position now than the Democrats or Republicans were in those scenarios. Its next speaker will inherit a majority that can sustain dozens of losses and is protected from those losses by gerrymandering in key states. And its voters, as pollsters will tell you, don't pay a ton of attention to who the speaker is. There is life after chaos -- though, seriously, it's better to figure out how to raise the debt limit first.


Of course, I’m not sold on the gerrymandering argument, and I don’t agree with the politics and governing styles of Reid and Pelosi. But will this little chaos bring us something better after McCarthy? Is there hope? From McCarthy’s past leadership record, it seems as if Republicans dodged a bullet, but I’ll let you debate that point. I’m just putting it out there.


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