Sometime next week, Kevin McCarthy, a suave (if largely spineless) career politician from Bakersfield, California, will offer himself as a human sacrifice to the barbarian tribes of the Republican caucus in the House of Representatives.
Remember Richard Harris in the atrocious 1970 movie, a man called a horse in which Harris is a British nobleman who joins the Sioux, but not before completing initiation rites that include being hung from the chest on pins? Next week, McCarthy will go through something similar, except unlike Harris’ John Morgan, McCarthy will also have to listen to Marjorie Taylor Greene. The arrangement is flagrantly unconstitutional as a violation of the Eighth Amendment. He is cruel and she is unusual.
You see, McCarthy wants to be Speaker of the House of Representatives. Nero didn’t want to be emperor as much as McCarthy wants to be a speaker. By poisoning his rivals for not being available as a campaign strategy, McCarthy has decided instead to further poison the political culture. He’s already promised endless sniper hunts on everything from the administration’s COVID and border policies to Hunter Biden’s laptop, which will soon replace “But Her Emails” as shorthand for useless waste of time, money, and political energy, all that which would be better spent. about real problems. He’s even preparing the January 6 select committee. From the Washington Post:
McCarthy’s letter echoes the desire of many other Republican lawmakers to aggressively attack the January 6 committee, which they have long criticized as a purely political vehicle for attacking former President Donald Trump. Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the likely next chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and his staff are already preparing to examine any evidence omitted from the final report that is more flattering or at least exculpatory of the actions of Trump that led to the Jan. 6 assault, according to a Republican operative who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the Republican strategy.
Only McCarthy’s vestigial conscience can tell him if the sledgehammer is worth his upcoming humiliation. At the moment, despite all his servility and servility, he still may not have the votes. Thanks in large part to the efforts of the people he is currently placating and the former president* whom they remain captivated, the new Republican majority in the House is a mere 10 votes, which means that, assuming no Democrats vote for him , and God help anyone to do: With six new registered members already declining to vote for him, McCarthy is two votes short of what he needs. Since the establishment of the Constitution, only 14 elections for president have gone through multiple ballots; the last of these occurred in 1923, the only time it has occurred in the years since the Civil War.
I don’t think he wants to know what McCarthy will have to do to get the votes he needs. I hope he has a strong chest.
Frederick Huntington Gillett was a career Republican politician from the old WASP school in Massachusetts: A graduate of Amherst College and Harvard Law, Gillett made a turn as Assistant Commonwealth Attorney General (Hail!), did a year at the state House of Representatives, and then was elected to Congress, where he served from 1893 to 1925. After leaving the House, he was elected to a single term in the Senate, and then died in 1935. But it was in January 1923 that Frederick Huntington Gillett becomes relevant to current events.
Four different political parties sent representatives to the House in the 1922 elections. In addition to the Republicans and the Democrats, two were from the Minnesota-only Labor-Farmer Party; one of them had defeated Andrew Volstead, the Republican whose name had become synonymous with Prohibition; and the other was Wisconsin socialist Victor Berger. Everything in politics was pretty fluid. The Republicans lost 77 seats, leaving them with a 17-seat majority. The older Republicans were still divided over the 1912 election, and the old Bull Mooses refused to follow Senator Robert LaFollette, the supposed Republican leader in Congress. The anger around bonus payments to World War I veterans was still raging, and Prohibition, which survived Volstead, had everyone furious. In this atmosphere, the House of Representatives met in January 1923 to elect a Speaker for the upcoming 68th Congress.
Gillett was the incumbent, having served as a speaker at the two previous congresses. But on the first ballot, Gillett received just 197 votes, two more than the Democratic nominee, Finis J. Garrett of Tennessee. Since 212 members did not vote, no candidate received a majority of the members’ votes. Enough Republicans opposed Gillett to prevent his election; Gillett was considered the establishment candidate by a rogue rump faction of the party. The election of the speaker is carried out through nine nominal passes. Eventually, Rep. John Nelson, a Wisconsin Republican, managed to broker a deal. Renegade Republicans would support Gillett if he agreed to certain procedural reforms. Majority Leader Nicholas Longworth, TR’s philandering son-in-law and famous cuckold, agreed to the arrangement, and Gillett spent one more term as speaker. Two years later, Gillett left and Longworth replaced him.
It has long been clear that McCarthy cannot become a speaker without a series of devil’s deals with the Republicans who have announced their opposition. The difference between his situation and Gillett’s is that Gillett was opposed by Republicans who stood for progressive ideas and specific programs. McCarthy opposes Republicans who represent angry ghosts and delusions of the Internet. Gillett’s opponents priced their votes for additional democratic reforms in the way the House operated, particularly its committee structures. McCarthy’s opponents would prefer that the House—and therefore representative democracy—do not function at all, except for hunting snipers and as a listening space for Fox News Channel. Getting those last five votes means falling for the likes of Andy Biggs and Matt Gaetz. It may also depend on what happens to New York congressman-elect George Santos, the man who wasn’t there.
Being a speaker is not worth this. Hell, Nero’s ambitions weren’t worth it.
Charles P Pierce is the author of four books, the most recent idiot americaand has worked as a journalist since 1976. He lives near Boston and has three children.
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