The Hard Part About Playing Chicken Is Knowing When To Flinch
Who gives up first?
This is also a story about the death of norms. McCarthy is not some ideologically unacceptable squish — he’s a conventional mainstream Republican who’s been friendly with the MAGA wing, even if he’s now being treated as if he were Arlen Specter. But nowadays, even when a supermajority of your colleagues have nominated a party leader, the norm of graciously accepting defeat is out the window. For the likes of Matt Gaetz, such norms never applied anyway.
As for the institutional complaints raised primarily by Roy, he is almost assuredly correct. The backbench frustrations with being asked to go along with policy votes they loathe is real, and having a more open House process (the House has been broken in this regard for decades) would be a good thing. Yet it would also result in a larger number of coalitions formed without the votes of the Freedom Caucus — meaning more legislation will pass that conservatives won’t like.
That scenario will confront anyone in the speaker’s job, which means the position is best filled by someone with a big-tent mindset who can raise money and handle the managerial side of things, as opposed to taking an authoritarian approach and more ideological leadership. It was Republicans, not Democrats, who knifed Newt Gingrich and John Boehner, and elevated Paul Ryan only to find problems with him too. They would turn on Scalise and Jordan as well, demanding impossible things, and then going to the cameras to complain when GOP leadership inevitably turns to Democrats to pass bills.
The unenviable nature of this job may be the best thing Kevin McCarthy has going for him. Jordan and Scalise are surely trying to hold on until after the next election rather than deal with this present headache. As for McCarthy, it’s wise to remember the lesson of The Hunt for Red October: “The hard part about playing chicken is knowing when to flinch.”
McCarthy’s closest allies have pledged to vote for “only Kevin,” but if he continues to look like a lost cause, there’s going to be more and more pressure to consider other options.
The first tiny crack in McCarthy’s united front appeared Tuesday on the third ballot, when Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla. switched his speaker vote to Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio.
“The one thing that’s clear is [McCarthy] doesn’t have the votes,” Donalds, who is considered a rising star in the caucus, told CNN’s Jake Tapper. “At some point as a conference we’re going to have to figure out who does.”
Following the first vote yesterday, McCarthy’s opponents coalesced around Jordan, a House Freedom Caucus founder who supports McCarthy and even gave a speech nominating him on the second ballot.
But a more formidable figure might be another member who has yet to receive a single vote: Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., the would-be majority leader if McCarthy were to succeed. Like Jordan, he has said he supports McCarthy for the gavel, but at the same time hasn’t ruled out a run himself were McCarthy to fail.
It’s far from certain, however, that Scalise wouldn’t run into similar problems in trying to get 218 votes. One holdout, Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale, has said he’d oppose any speaker nominee who was part of House GOP leadership in the last 10 years.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Transom to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.