The now-former president’s historic impeachment came just three days after he was forced to use Democratic votes to prevent a damaging government shutdown that the absolutism of his own party was about to trigger. This compounded his original sin, earlier this year, of blinking when hardline House Republicans threatened to cause a disastrous default on America’s debts that could have plunged the economy into chaos and caused global panic.
McCarthy’s brief intervention underscored how the Republican Party in the era of Donald Trump has become one of the great forces of instability in American life, and potentially the world, with the former president dominating the 2024 Republican primaries as he aims to a demolition second term ball. A party that once defined conservatism as the preservation of a traditional sense of stability and strength has evolved over the past three decades into a haven for agents of chaos, political hacks, and a perpetual ideological revolution that continues to take it to new heights. extremes. The party’s willingness to embrace the scandalous was also on display Tuesday in New York, where Trump ranted in a hallway outside a courtroom where his fraud trial was being heard and received a gag order for attacking a judge’s clerk. on social networks.
McCarthy was no moderate and did little to stem the Republican Party’s drift from democracy. But his defeat, at the hands of far-right rebels who he complained last week wanted to “burn the whole place down,” is a telling comment on his party. His political assassins, led by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, overthrew their leader without any plan for what comes next, paralyzing a hugely important wing of the American government for at least a week. The self-inflicted chaos will hamper the party’s efforts to capitalize on President Joe Biden’s vulnerability, and the new display of incompetence and extremism could hamper the GOP’s attempt to hold onto the swing seats it needs to maintain its majority next year. More importantly, Tuesday’s political regicide demonstrated that the House majority is inoperable and that the Republican Party is ungovernable. Until that changes, the United States will be ungovernable.
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McCarthy’s downfall is not without irony. He emerged when he strayed from the path of extremism by seeking a deal with Biden to save the country from harm. In a party where trying to break the cherished chain of peaceful transfers of presidential power, being criminally charged four times, and cozying up to some of the world’s most bloodthirsty dictators is no disqualification (see Trump), the reluctant search for compromise by McCarthy’s part was inexcusable.
McCarthy Fueled The Extremism That Felled Him
For a time, McCarthy seemed to do everything right to appease the radicalism that perpetually drives the Republican Party to the right.
Rising to power in a job he had long coveted, the Californian paid the required tribute to Trump, reviving the disgraced former president’s reputation with a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago after the Capitol insurrection and working to thwart accountability for an uprising that he himself had longed for. briefly condemned. More recently, McCarthy ordered an impeachment inquiry into Biden, despite a dearth of evidence of the high crimes and misdemeanors that are the standard for consideration as the Constitution’s most serious penalty.
But far from expelling Biden from office, McCarthy himself disappeared less than a month after initiating that investigation. McCarthy probably hoped to quell right-wing fury with the impeachment move, but there is no limit to the demands of an anti-government Republican faction for whom chaos is an end in itself. Before interim Republican leaders said they would recess until next week to try to find a new speaker, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Rep. Tim Burchett, one of the eight Republicans who sealed McCarthy’s fate on Tuesday, if his party would have a new figurehead. at nightfall. Summing up the Republican Party’s embrace of anarchy, the Tennessean responded, “I have no idea, bro.”
Despite his kowtowing to the right, McCarthy ultimately discovered that with power comes responsibility for something greater than personal and party glory, even for the leader of the most conservative House in history. Twice, by raising the debt limit and avoiding a shutdown, he scorned his own more extremist members who were willing to ruin the economy or allow troops to go unpaid. Radicals in the Republican Party – a much larger bloc than the small faction that voted to unseat McCarthy – are demanding a massive purge of government spending even though they have not built a national majority through elections for such radical action.
But McCarthy signed a temporary 45-day spending bill to avoid a shutdown, seeking to prolong his confrontation with extremists until mid-November. His Band-Aid did not include the $6 billion Biden and the Senate were asking for for Ukraine, but it still angered hardliners who wanted to go far below the spending cuts McCarthy had made with the president in a deal. above to increase the government’s borrowing limit to avoid a debt default. McCarthy acted knowing that, with Democrats controlling the Senate and the presidency, House Republicans couldn’t simply sign his wish list into law and would pay a political price for a shutdown. But a Republican president who needs Democratic votes is on borrowed time, even though no one could have known the end would come so soon.
For the transgression of trying to create some governance, however erratic, McCarthy joined his predecessors, such as Republican Party Chairman John Boehner, and Paul Ryan, in being ousted from office. The three have failed to stop a far-right faction that rejects compromise, a central concept in the American political system that is designed to promote democratic, incremental change.
A Sudden End
“Go ahead,” McCarthy told his enemies this week as they plotted to overthrow him. They did it.
“I never give up,” he warned. Faced with reality, he did so and chose not to run for president in a new election.
After becoming the first speaker ousted from office in American history (a sign in itself of the nihilism and chaos that characterizes his party), McCarthy sought to recreate the fatherly optimism for which he was once known in the Capitol, but he wore it down. in the darkness of the current political era.
“I have no regrets about advocating for the choice of governance over complaints,” McCarthy said, putting on a brave face at his humiliation at a farewell news conference that capped a speakership that had always seemed to have a contract of short term lease.
Two factors paved the way for his departure. First, a slim majority of voters delivered to House Republicans in the midterm elections. McCarthy could only afford to lose four votes on a partisan whip to pass a bill, meaning he was always destined to be one of the weakest speakers in history. That zero-error majority – the result, in part, of voter rebellion against extremist pro-Trump candidates who bought into his election lies – meant that even a handful of extremists could wield enormous influence in the chamber. Even more damaging to McCarthy was the fact that his desire to be leader of the House and second in line for the presidency meant he made multiple concessions to right-wingers that further sapped his power. They included the poison pill that his nemesis, Gaetz, forced him to swallow on Tuesday that meant a single lawmaker could call a vote to unseat him.
McCarthy bitterly criticized Democrats for allowing eight Republican rebels to oust him from office by failing to provide enough votes to save him. But it was no surprise that a party whose president now faces an impeachment inquiry and whose 2020 election victory is still being tarnished by GOP insiders did not come to the rescue.
Privately, McCarthy might wonder why help didn’t come from another quarter: Trump. The former president, who once referred to him as “My Kevin,” was glad the California Republican acted as his political shield during the last Congress when he blocked an independent commission into the mob attack on the Capitol by supporters. of Trump. Also as minority leader, McCarthy ensured that one of Trump’s most vehement Republican enemies, former Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, was ousted from party leadership.
McCarthy’s opening of an impeachment inquiry last month – despite having no evidence that Biden personally benefited from his son Hunter’s apparent influence peddling when his father was vice president – was, at least in part, a attempt to mitigate the impact of Trump’s double impeachments and four criminal trials before the presidency. the 2024 elections. However, the former president did not lift a finger to save McCarthy, demonstrating once again that with Trump loyalty usually flows in one direction and that all the former president’s enablers, even if they become president of the Camera, they are dispensable. That’s a warning to the next Republican in McCarthy’s seat and helps explain why his departure will likely only lead to more chaos in the House and the country.
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Trump, however, also understands the most fundamental lesson of the Republican Party that has transformed his own savage image. As his behavior becomes even more autocratic and unhinged, he shows that the only way to survive is to become more extreme. McCarthy deviated from that course twice, seeking to provide a modicum of governance in the interest of his country.
He quickly learned the truism of radical political movements everywhere that reminds us how leaders often fall prey to deepening extremism: the revolution devours its children.