In the Matt Gaetz vs. Kevin McCarthy battle, the GOP’s stupidity and hypocrisy are showing

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., left, one of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy's harshest critics, answers questions from members of the media after speaking on the House floor, at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, Oct. 2, 2023. Gaetz has said he plans to use a procedural tool called a motion to vacate to try and strip McCarthy of his office as soon as this week. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

(Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press)

In the Matt Gaetz vs. Kevin McCarthy battle, the GOP's stupidity and hypocrisy are showing


Jonah Goldberg

Oct. 2, 2023

And if, at this time next week [House Speaker] Kevin McCarthy is still speaker of the House, it will be because the Democrats bailed him out and he can be their speaker, not mine, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz declared on ABCs This Week.

Pretty much everything you need to know about the House GOPs dysfunction can be extrapolated from Gaetzs petulant promise, which he made good on when he filed a motion to oust McCarthy Monday evening.

The founders intended the speaker to be the second most powerful constitutional office, after the presidency. (Vice presidents, while second in the line of presidential succession, have almost no formal power outside of breaking Senate ties, and of recent relevance, counting electoral ballots after a presidential election.) But the framers didnt provide much guidance on how the job should work. A handful cast themselves as apolitical facilitators.

Schulyer Schuyler

Colfax, who held the job during and just after the Civil War, said he had come to this chair to administer [the] rules, but not as a partisan.

Over time, the job became unavoidably partisan. Speakers must be elected by a majority of members, and it would be bizarre if those votes didnt come from the speakers party. Thats McCarthys dilemma. While he nominally has a five-seat majority, the House GOP is better understood as split in two, with an amorphous minority of self-styled rebels. Labeling this rump is difficult. Theyd say theyre the conservative base of the party, but the word conservative is contestable given their radical bent and their ideological and fiscal inconstancy depending on whether Donald Trump is president.

Determined to make the perfect the enemy of the good, they want to dictate outcomes a majority of the House will not vote for. Because they lack numerical support, they try to leverage potential crises defaults on the national debt, government shutdowns, including the cliffhanger over the weekend to extract legislative concessions they cant win on the merits.

The rebels specific goals some of which I have sympathy for in the abstract really dont matter because the real goal is to cast themselves as tragic heroes taking on the establishment, specifically the Republican establishment. Cutting deals that earn partial victories or avoid total disasters amounts to capitulation. Going down fighting not only proves purity, it avoids the responsibility to govern.

We lost,

Gaetz admitted Sunday

. But, he preened, A defeat is not a surrender.

For Gaetz, who fancies himself the leader of


rebel rump, McCarthys collaboration with Democrats to keep the government open is proof of his illegitimacy. Indeed, the whole point of Gaetzs obstinacy

has been

to force a government shutdown or force McCarthy to work with Democrats in order to orchestrate the speakers ouster.

There are only two problems with this thinking: Its hypocritical and stupid. The hypocrisy stems from the fact that to make good on the threat to oust McCarthy requires Democratic votes.

As of Monday, perhapsRight now, only

a dozen or so Republicans would vote to vacate the chair i.e. depose McCarthy. Gaetzs gambit depends on Democrats even more than McCarthy does.

The stupidity is too deep and wide to describe in full here. But the idea that legislation must effectively have


and party-line support from the speakers party is a preposterous invention at odds with all of American history. Even the not-really-a-rule Hastert Rule only requires a majority of the majority to support specific legislation.

Crucially, the budget cuts and amendment demands of the hard-liners itching to shut down the government last week would not have passed the Democrat-controlled Senate or survived Bidens veto pen. And shutdowns always hurt the party that launches them. But they dont necessarily harm the Gaetzes who come from safe districts and have a political and financial incentive to make anyone who tries to make the system work seem corrupt.

A Gaetz motion to vacate McCarthy may work. But as with the rebels shutdown plan, nobody can answer what happens after that. House Democrats are more unified than the GOP but just barely. And they suffer from many of the dynamics plaguing the GOP. A Democrat voting to keep McCarthy speaker would invite a primary challenge. A deadlock on the speaker vote wouldnt mean a government shutdown, but it would shut down the House.

I have one modest solution. For

its the post’s

first half century, the speaker was chosen by secret ballot. Lets go back to that. I dont know if that would save McCarthys speakership, but nor do I care. A secret ballot for speaker would empower the normies in both parties to find a consensus candidate whod tack closer to Schuyler


view of the job.