Last week when Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner announced the intention to resign his post at the end of this month, I indulged in a few moments’ worth of delicious schadenfreude. They were almost painful in their sweetness – the Party of No’s Grand Marshal driven out by the lunatic fringe that looks suspiciously mainstream in 2015. But once my giddy synapses ceased firing, a horrifying realization set in. The replacement Speaker is bound to be even worse for governance, and the country in general, than the weepy tangerine. Emboldened by a mandate of GOP crazy, and possibly even one of the embedded insurrectionists, the already halting wheels of Washington democracy seem likely to come to full stop.
And then I learned who Boehner’s replacement is likely to be – House Majority Leader and California congressman Kevin McCarthy. Oy. McCarthy’s meteoric rise through the ranks began with his election to the House in 2006. From there he became Republican Chief Deputy Whip (2009-2011) and House Majority Whip (2011-2014), before replacing Eric Cantor as Leader after he was “primaried” by the Tea Party toward the back end of 2014.
Short tenure in the national legislature notwithstanding, we already know that McCarthy is no better equipped than Boehner to keep the monkeys from overrunning the zoo. In July of 2011, writer Robert Draper of The New York Times Magazine published How Kevin McCarthy Wrangles the Tea Party in Washington. He noted in the piece, “To hold the caucus together, McCarthy’s delicate approach has been to acknowledge the independence of the hot-blooded new charges while instilling in them a sense of team loyalty — and thereby moving them, ever so gently, to a victory that will be enduring rather than Pyrrhic.”
Boehner’s resignation confirms that McCarthy’s leadership approach over the last leap year has been a dismal, crushing failure. The party has continued its gleeful cannibalization. He’s also from a blue state and the GOP caucus still seems to like him. That’s even more concerning. Brimming with confidence, a smug McCarthy made the media rounds this week, apparently dismissing all those earlier dreams of enduring, cooperative victory. And then he stepped in it immediately.
MSNBC’s Steven Benen writes, “On Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) acknowledged a fact that everyone knows, but which Republicans aren’t supposed to admit out loud: the GOP’s taxpayer-financed Benghazi committee is all about the Republicans’ ‘strategy to fight and win’ against Hillary Clinton. It’s not, in other words, about investigating an attack that left four Americans dead.”
It was all well and good when the mockery that is the Benghazi hearings was America’s worst kept secret. But for God’s sake McCarthy, you’re not supposed to say it. Suddenly, waking from a willful coma, some members of the party admit a Leadership Void Has Hill Republicans worried about 2016. CNN journalist Manu Raju observes that “Coming on the heels of Ben Carson’s criticism of Muslims, Donald Trump’s repudiation of undocumented immigrants from Mexico and a presidential race where personal insults are flying, the sudden resignation of House Speaker John Boehner is creating an unease the party establishment has not experienced in years.”
The article goes on to feature the concerns of Senator John Cornyn of Texas. I could not offer a better assessment of these comments than that of my younger sister (I swear one day I’ll stop quoting her, but the woman is a soundbite wunderkind): “When a Republican from TEXAS says the racist rhetoric and political infighting is a problem, either hell has frozen over or somehow reality is actually penetrating the fog.”
So what now? Benen notes of McCarthy’s continuing Benghazi committee overshare fallout, “Behind the scenes, some Republican insiders are quietly starting to refer to McCarthy as ‘the new Dan Quayle.’ I don’t think they mean it as a compliment.” But the party may not have any other viable Speaker options given the short timeline. Representative Daniel Webster of Florida challenged Boehner for the gavel last year – and netted only 12 votes.
It’s a cognitively dissonant tightrope the democratically-minded of us must walk before this coming Thursday’s vote. To delight in the continued implosion of a hysterical, irresponsible party while furtively hoping they actually select a functional, honest human being to lead the team. We can’t avoid the latter. For now at least, Republicans have too much power.