The Right Resistance: Speaker battle the first punch thrown in a 15-round GOP bout for results
Full speed ahead.
It’s often said in the age of internet-driven electronic communications and the 24-hour news cycle that politics never stops, but it certainly slowed to a practical standstill over the holidays, didn’t it? 2022 was a heck of a busy year whereby the past couple weeks Americans took a break from the rancor and divisiveness to mingle with friends and family and gain perspective.
And argue a little bit about the path forward from the government-created mess we’re in.
On this first work day of 2023 there’s already a buzz surrounding the United States capital. With a new Congress being sworn in tomorrow, there’ll be a significant shift in power – or at least there should be one. Naturally, conservatives hope to take full advantage of their newfound majority, and much is riding on the election of a new Speaker to guide the country’s legislative ship of priorities.
By all appearances, California’s Kevin McCarthy seems to have nearly all the support he’d need to be the top guy. But going in to the vote after the 435 members take their oath of office, the leadership decisions remain very much up in the air.
As with everything else, what could and should be done collides with practical reality. Nobody ever said 2023 promises a smooth journey through time, and the difficult stuff begins now, just as most folks are still recovering from their New Year’s hangovers. In a piece titled “The GOP’s Moronic House Leadership Fight”, David Catron wrote at The American Spectator last week:
“… If McCarthy’s record looked like McConnell’s record, the antics of the ‘never Kevin’ caucus might be understandable. As it is, there is no rational basis for their position. They are obviously taking advantage of the GOP’s narrow majority to grab a few headlines and make ridiculous demands.
“In return for their support, for example, they want a rule change that would allow any House member to call a vote to replace the sitting speaker. If McCarthy were crazy enough to agree to this, Rep. Biggs and his accomplices would hold him hostage for the next two years. Biggs wrote in a recent op-ed that he opposes McCarthy because he wants to ‘dislodge the establishment.’ His clumsy crusade is far more likely to create a chaotic situation that the Democrats will exploit to render the slim GOP majority all but powerless.
“… If they really want to do the country some good, they will stop holding their own party hostage and learn that politics is a team sport.”
Rah, Rah, Sis, Boom Bah! Yes indeed, in 2023, American politics is most definitely a team sport. But it was in 2022 and before that, too.
For those familiar with Catron’s writings realize he’s no establishment stooge who rubber stamps anything coming out of party headquarters or a Bush family member’s mouth. Or Liz Cheney. Same thing. But is it possible to agree with everything Catron wrote and still not completely agree with his premise?
It’s been surprising to witness the volume of commentary that the GOP House leadership’s top position has generated, but it’s just the latest salvo in the lengthier and greater non-shooting war waged by conservatives against the establishment that’s been going on for the better part of a century. Recall that nearly a decade ago it took years and several attempts to dislodge the chain smoking, Merlot swilling John Boehner from the Speaker’s chair in 2015.
Then, when Boehner finally consented to go, there wasn’t a predetermined conservative heir apparent waiting in the wings to assume the Ohioan’s role. After a period of time and considerable arm-twisting from the GOP establishment, so-called budget guru and former 2012 vice president nominee (tapped by Mitt Romney, no less) Paul Ryan emerged as the party bluebloods’ “White Knight” candidate to take the reins. Ryan reluctantly agreed to fill the void, but made it clear he wouldn’t tolerate the kind of persistent challenges to his position that had Boehner running for cover after having survived through most of the turbulent Obama years.
But it was also evident from the outset that the young Wisconsin native wasn’t about to one, use his position to advance a conservative limited government agenda, and two, to play nicely with the presidential nominee selected by the Republican grassroots – the bombastic and unpredictable and non-politically refined Donald Trump.
Like Mitch McConnell in the senate, Ryan was of the stoic and erroneous belief that standing up for all of his fellow party members – including Trump – would damage the GOP as a whole. Rather than rally ‘round the embattled outsider Republican and his MAGA agenda, passive Paul sat on his haunches and disavowed statements or actions so as to remain in good standing with the Washington swamp creatures.
It's hard to recall now, but Paul Ryan was once viewed as an unabashed leader of the reform-minded contingent of Republicans but apparently had been scared into inertia by all those Democrat attack ads depicting him as the type of person who would push a Medicare/Social Security dependent grandmother off a cliff to spare a few nickels rather than pay her doctor invoices.
In essence, Ryan was a coward. Rather than run for reelection in 2018 and fight to retain the Speaker’s gavel, he opted out of Washington altogether. Since that time, he’s mostly sniped from the sidelines at Trump or any conservatives who rocked the boat too much. Paul Ryan is the epitome of an amnesty loving, Chamber of Commerce-type faux conservative sycophant who’s become all too common in the upper echelons of the pre-Trump GOP.
After Ryan left, another competition ensued between conservatives and the establishment for the position of House Republican leader—but this time in the minority. Despite the fact he wasn’t well known nationally or regarded as someone who’d battle the Democrat socialist tide (led by Nancy Pelosi again), McCarthy had the necessary support to become House GOP leader.
Which leads us to today, the second day of 2023, and Republicans are still facing the same dilemma – namely, whether to allow McCarthy to front the new GOP majority with a hope that he’s somehow grown a Pelosi-like spine over the past four years in the big boy chair. Kevin talks a good game and sounds as though he’s prepared to go to the mat with the Democrats to stop them from ruining the nation – or at the very least, to slow them down.
So the controversy surrounding permitting McCarthy to continue as House GOP leader is simply a continuation of the same struggle conservatives have been engaged in since the John Boehner days – or even the awful Dennis Hastert before him. “Majority maker” Newt Gingrich was the only Republican leader conservatives felt earnestly comfortable with, but his movement flamed-out all too quickly at the initiation of impeachment proceedings involving Big Bubba Bill Clinton in the late 90’s.
Conservatives certainly envy the unity and common purpose from the beginning of the Gingrich led House after the 1994 elections. But no such sense of togetherness or goals exists today and we’re stuck with the awkward choice between anointing another establishmentarian – McCarthy – as Speaker or holding out hope for a miracle that the GOP membership will experience a mass change of heart and opt to pick someone more apropos to do the dirty work of bashing the Democrats and advancing the cause.
Or, as the five “never-Kevin” Republicans have hinted would sway them, acceptance by McCarthy and the top leaders of conditions whereby the principled antagonists would agree to support the Californian.
It’s hard to envision a scenario where Democrats are provided a chance to muck up the selection of a new Speaker, but it depends on the resolve of the holdouts and the willingness of McCarthy to negotiate some set of rules he’ll abide by when things get nasty. And they will get nasty, folks.
Most conservatives acknowledge that 2023 won’t bring some sort of magical good feelings towards the establishment or the socialist Democrat opposition. With the nation on the brink of financial and cultural collapse under senile Joe Biden’s presidency, we need more than basic more of the same. Opposing Kevin McCarthy as Speaker seems natural – but is it wise?
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