It is beginning to dawn on people that betraying the House Republican Conference and forcing Speaker Kevin McCarthy to vacate the speaker’s chair will have serious consequences.
It is beginning to dawn on people that betraying the House Republican Conference and forcing Speaker Kevin McCarthy to vacate the speaker’s chair will have serious consequences. The damage to the House GOP may prove much bigger and more lasting than the momentary personal defeat for the California Republican.
It has begun to sink in that none of the candidate’s for speaker have even 10 percent of McCarthy’s ability to fundraise or recruit. During the 2022 election cycle, the speaker raised $485 million. He also sought out and found dozens of strong Republican candidates.
Ironically, several of the members who voted against him were only serving in Congress because of the support he gave them. While the betrayers rhetorically have denounced the fundraising system (and McCarthy’s talent for it), the reality is campaigns are expensive – and candidates need money.
Meanwhile, Democrats will almost certainly have a huge financial advantage in the 2024 races. With McCarthy’s absence from the fundraising circuit, the GOP may be in dire straits. The current chaos in turmoil will also likely lead some veteran Republicans to retire – and discourage other competent people from running. Who would want to join a self-sabotaging team that stabs itself in the back? I predict House GOP recruitment is about to get much harder.
As importantly, Speaker McCarthy was a strategist and visionary of unusual skill. He brought MIT professors down to brief a bipartisan group of members on artificial intelligence. Unlike Speaker Nancy Pelosi, he consciously put together congressional delegations that were bipartisan. He reached out to Democrats to go to California to meet with the President of Taiwan, to Israel, and the Middle East. He put together bipartisan groups to have lunch with the Prime Minister of Italy. (Callista was invited as former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, and I tagged along.)
Speaker McCarthy developed a strategy for getting a more conservative debt ceiling agreement – and stuck to it for 100 days while Biden tried to avoid negotiating. He had Chairman Jodey Arrington lead the Budget Committee Republicans in developing and reporting out a 10-year path to a balanced budget. Speaker McCarthy coordinated the Judiciary, Ways and Means, and Oversight and Accountability committees in a sophisticated and determined investigation of corruption in the Biden family. He was calmly and methodically moving from an early investigation to an impeachment inquiry. He was gradually building the case, so the American people would come to understand how deeply corrupt the Bidens are.
Speaker McCarthy also had a crystal clear vision of the kind of inclusive Republican Party that could become – and remain – a majority in the House. He worked hard to recruit women, minority candidates, and veterans. He was consciously changing the face of the House GOP to better reflect the country in which we live and the people who Congress serves. Make no mistake: His effort was working. In both 2020 and 2022, the House GOP gained seats while the U.S. Senate lost them. McCarthy was already recruiting and fundraising to expand the majority significantly in 2024.
He had a disciplined, positive, and cheerful approach no matter what was happening. As opposed to the all too often gloomy, angry, or inarticulate Republican stereotype, Speaker McCarthy actually likes people. He communicates positively. Watch the 15 ballots that it took for him to become Speaker, and you will find him consistently positive. Watch his walk to the press conference to announce he was stepping down as Speaker, and you will see the same positive cheerful approach. McCarthy shares with President Ronald Reagan a Californian optimism that appeals to a large number of Americans.
Unfortunately, his positive attitude was a weakness with the Republican base. Modern populism requires fear of what is happening to the country, rage about the corruption of the establishment, and frustration with business as usual in the so-called imperial capital. McCarthy worked to solve problems and achieve goals – but he could not satisfy the grassroots’ psychological hunger for a crazed political pugilist.
The conference will also miss his knowledge. McCarthy has been immersed in politics his whole life. He knows virtually every district and member. He can successfully gauge what will win elections in the moderate Northeast, divided California districts, and the conservative Sunbelt. No one else in the House GOP has McCarthy’s depth of understanding. This will likely soon lead to avoidable mistakes and unnecessary tensions.
Finally, Speaker McCarthy’s admiration of President Abraham Lincoln – and his deep belief in government of, by, and for the people – kept him constantly focused on the American people and what they wanted. (Just look at the giant painting by Steve Penley that hangs in his office.)
Ironically, just as the short-sighted anarchists were betraying McCarthy (in alliance with the House Democrats), Gallup was reporting the largest favorable results for congressional Republicans since the President Jimmy Carter years. The generic ballot for Republicans in House races was the highest it had been in decades.
The House GOP is going to find it extraordinarily hard to replace the gentleman from Bakersfield. They will come to regret this betrayal.
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