Opinion

A speaker’s gavel that no one deserves

By Matthew Gagnon

“Bring it on.” 

That was then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy on social media on Oct. 2, goading on a rebellious faction of his own party, more or less inviting them to try to wrestle the gavel from his hands, after they had threatened to try to oust him.  

The message was exactly the kind of theatrical nonsense that I so loathe in politics. If that message was truly for U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and his merry band of anarchists, it would’ve probably been unscripted and delivered in private. After all, if you’re trying to send a message to someone, direct it at them.

McCarthy didn’t do that. Instead, he was performing on social media for us and for his caucus. His goal was to give himself the appearance of an undaunted, iron-willed tough guy, strutting his stuff like a pathetic political peacock. 

McCarthy’s shtick was as hollow and pointless as his speakership ended up being. One day later the very people he invited to bring it, brought it, unceremoniously ejecting him from a job he held for only nine months. 

The move to throw McCarthy overboard was ridiculous, but I can’t bring myself to feel sorry that he is gone. As I wrote in January, McCarthy was “a weak leader” and “politically impotent.” Although he used to like to pretend that he was a “Young Gun,” that was disrupting the traditional order in the Republican Party, he was, in reality, a very conventional and uninspiring politician and absolutely a creature of the establishment.

For their part, the eight House rebels who overthrew McCarthy are just as, if not more, worthy of contempt. The eight engineered their revolt for their own purposes and in their own self-interest, using the frustrated feelings of the conservative base to get attention, affection and campaign cash for themselves. In the week leading up to and after the vote to depose McCarthy, I received no less than two dozen email and text solicitations for campaign contributions from the anti-McCarthy caucus. Phony, engineered “RINO” hunting sure does pay well, it seems. 

Now, though, the deed has been done and the congressional “Game of Thrones” has begun, and the theater of the absurd has just begun.

Next up for humiliation was House Majority Leader Steve Scalise. Nine months ago, Scalise was viewed as a possibly more acceptable conservative alternative to McCarthy for speaker and was even accused of running a subtle, undeclared counter-campaign to undermine him. 

No longer. Scalise won the Republican conference vote against U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan narrowly but was unable to secure the votes he needed to obtain the speaker’s gavel, as the GOP rebels held out their support and painted Scalise as a McCarthy clone. To his credit, Scalise recognized the virtual impossibility of his election and dropped out rather than attempting to force the issue as his predecessor had in January. 

With Scalise gone, attention turned to Jordan, the firebrand conservative Freedom Caucus hero. 

Jordan had played an interesting political hand through the public knifings of McCarthy and Scalise. He had supported McCarthy, and was not one of the representatives who voted for his ouster. When Scalise was chosen over him in the conference, he publicly supported and pledged his vote to Scalise on the floor. The House rebels had called members who supported both men members of the “uniparty” and the annoyingly tired pejorative “RINO,” but Jordan was seemingly spared their ire because his vote didn’t mean he really supported either of the two establishment candidates. No, he needed to appear to be a loyal soldier to not alienate anyone when his time came. 

That time came. Jordan was nominated, just as Scalise had been. This time, the rebellious Republicans said they would support Jordan, as did McCarthy. Were the stars beginning to align?

No, they weren’t. On the first floor vote Tuesday, Jordan saw 20 House Republicans balk at his candidacy. Amazingly, the irate Jordan supporters exploded with rage on the mess that is X (formerly Twitter), accusing the 20 anti-Jordan members of “holding the party hostage” and “acting like children.”

So eight representatives forcing out a speaker supported by 210 members of the majority party is heroic, but 20 voting against Jordan is childish hostage-taking? 

Unfortunately, this clown show will continue, and likely only get worse. As I watch this train derail in real time, it only proves how unworthy this party — at least in Congress — is of receiving your vote. 

While they may be ineffective children who do absolutely nothing and self-immolate on a daily basis, that is probably still preferable to the efficient and effective but damaging extremism of the Democratic Party. 

Incompetence as raison d’être? How inspiring.

Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

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