That age, McCarthy laments, is not defined specifically by former President Donald Trump. Recall that the first time McCarthy ran for the speakership — eight years ago, before leaving in the face of right-wing opposition — was before Trump entered the presidential race and made himself the most important figure in the Republican Party. This time, McCarthy is faltering despite Trump’s endorsement.
That McCarthy’s response both before and after Trump’s presidency is a reminder that Trump was someone who exploited the politics of contempt but did not cause it, and suggests that He may be only relevant to some of the questions facing the future of the conservative movement. ,
Even before the vote began, McCarthy and his allies indicated he was prepared to press for vote-by-vote, if necessary, crushing the opposition and winning his desperate plea at Monday’s closed-door meeting. to achieve, that is, “I’ve earned this job.” By Tuesday evening, after McCarthy lost a third vote, that strategy was looking increasingly problematic. Californians were effectively asking that their own party matched them in tolerance for public humiliation on TV. Still, no viable alternative to such self-abasement had emerged.
One must look back through the smoke of recent years to a time when the conservative movement was shaped by an instinctive deference to authority – the setting of priorities and establishment values. When it came to selecting leaders, according to the old saying, Democrats needed to fall in love while Republicans were more willing to toe the line.
By the third vote, 202 Republicans were ready to do so, including members who had privately questioned his leadership in strongly worded terms. But 20 were not, and conclusively so. That minority faction was acting with reasonable confidence that they were faithful to the organizing principle of contemporary conservatism: contempt for anyone who does not share the same attitude of contempt or treat it with sufficient purity. does not express with
Of course, McCarthy did his level best. He had spent years raising money for his party. He had suppressed his unconscious and momentary impulse to stand up against Donald Trump after the January 6th riots. He turned on his one-time colleague Liz Cheney to get her out of the party. Cheney’s experience has shown that there is a political price to be paid for taking a stand. McCarthy’s experience may soon show that so is refusing to take a stand.
McCarthy had made so many concessions to his party’s Freedom Caucus as to guarantee that the speaker was a step above a symbolic post, with little ability to set an agenda or exert any influence to promote it.
Surely, he imagined that all these gestures of atonement would be enough. But the evidence so far is that he has reinforced the image of opponents – and seemingly some supporters – that he is a politician with no real conviction, with little ability to inspire fear or respect. Is.
Congress leadership needs carrot or stick. For the holdouts, McCarthy had neither the things they wanted nor the things they feared. Who has those things? In an apparent sign of the times, Rep. Guy Reisenthaler, who wants to be part of McCarthy’s leadership team as chief deputy whip, said the answers could be right-wing commentators:”We’ll see what happens with Tucker [Carlson] And Sean Hannity and Ben Shapiro started beating those guys up. Maybe he’ll move it.
Help with Fundraising? Born publicity hounds like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) can easily raise money independently and not worry about being out of good graces with party leadership, to the extent that he has never been in such graces. Were. What about a budget bouquet to show voters back home that their member of Congress has real clout? An honest thinker like Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) doesn’t care about these things. He thought McCarthy was not a real conservative in 2015, and he would not change his mind in 2023.
Gaetz and Roy are, in fact, good windows into the overall nature of the anti-McCarthy coalition. Part of it is driven by disruption for its own sake—party strife, and playing to the most fractious faction of the Republican mob generates more news coverage and is more interesting than the serious act of coalition-building and governing.
One House Republican told my colleague Olivia Beaver: “I love shitshows and this is a shitshow to watch.” Another wing of GOP dissidents is so driven by anti-government convictions that they would never bring themselves to support someone they see as a transactional operative.
But if he is opposed to McCarthy, what about his support? He ran on attributes — his fundraising ability, his amiable manner with GOP allies — that would be perfectly relevant to a position like the head of the national Republican Congressional Committee dedicated to helping win elections. One thing they didn’t run into: anything presuming a bigger idea about governance.
This makes McCarthy’s bid for power a generation earlier, after the 1994 election, different than that of Newt Gingrich and his team of “revolutionaries”. Nor is McCarthy committed to anything like the sunny-side-up conservatism on behalf of which Paul Ryan preached, even though he did much to advance it in his four years as speaker beginning in 2015. Couldn’t do anything.
McCarthy’s difficulties show that there are natural limits to a purely transactional approach to political power. They also show that the contempt-driven approach to politics has not yet reached its limit.
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