A clown show about nothing
Did you have a bad first day back at work in 2023? If so, take solace from the fact that it could be worse: you could be Kevin McCarthy. The California Republican bounded through the Capitol promising a “good day” yesterday morning. What followed was a bad-tempered meeting of House Republicans and three rounds of voting on the floor in which McCarthy wasn’t even close to the tally he needs to secure the speakership. In other words, it was not a good day. In fact, McCarthy ended proceedings with fewer votes than he started. In Tuesday’s final vote, twenty House Republicans voted against him.
This leaves, well, more or less everything in doubt. McCarthy may be floundering, but his hopes of becoming speaker remain alive thanks to the lack of a viable alternative. If McCarthy is to turn things around, he has hours, not days, to do so. When the House reconvenes at noon he must demonstrate some progress toward breaking the gridlock among colleagues sympathetic to McCarthy and keen to break this embarrassing impasse. He got a boost this morning in the form of a statement from Donald Trump in which the former president reported “some really good conversations took place last night” and called on House members to “VOTE FOR KEVIN, CLOSE THE DEAL, TAKE THE VICTORY.” He added, “Kevin McCarthy will do a good job, and maybe even a GREAT JOB – JUST WATCH!”
Trump’s renewed involvement, after weeks of half-hearted support for “my Kevin,” will be a relief for Team McCarthy — and re the fight for the gavel as an indicator of Trump’s influence in the party.
We have a lot of good stuff on the drama on the site. Jacob Heilbrunn thinks McCarthy is a dead man walking. He reasons that when Marjorie Taylor Greene, “who was urging her colleagues to take the win and vote for McCarthy, is the voice of rationality in the GOP, then you’re in what George H.W. Bush liked to call deep doo-doo.” Ben Domenech points out that the current impasse is in part the result of a death of norms: “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.” David Marcus looks at what this all means for Trump.
Brave is the pundit offering concrete predictions as to how this historic brouhaha is resolved. But if I were McCarthy, the thinking that would make me most nervous is just how low the stakes are for his opponents. The twenty holdouts aren’t a homogenous block, but the largest faction, lead by Gaetz, seems to be motivated by a “why the heck not?” nihilism. They are light on concrete and realistic requests but determined to throw their weight around and hungry for a scalp. That means that Kevin McCarthy is in a staring contest, not a negotiation. It doesn’t look much fun — which is why McCarthy is still the only serious contestant in a game he can’t win.
Dress for the job your husband wants, not the job he has
If you wondered whether it’s possible to say “he’s running” with clothes, then look no further than Casey DeSantis’s ’fit for her husband’s second inauguration as governor of Florida. Mrs. DeSantis channeled Jackie Kennedy in a caped gown and white gloves, an outfit that was more White House than Governor’s Mansion.
The same could have been said of her husband’s speech. DeSantis used his platform to make a national argument. “We lead not by mere words, but by deeds,” he said, describing Florida as “the land of liberty and the land of sanity.” Contrasting Tallahassee with Washington, he said, “Florida’s success has been made more difficult by the floundering federal establishment in Washington, D.C. Federal government has gone on an inflationary spending binge that has left our nation weaker and our citizens poorer.”
The speech was a restatement of DeSantis’s formidable appeal to GOP primary voters. But it was also a reminder of the narrow window for the Florida governor’s national aspirations. While DeSantis is eager to fashion himself as an all-purpose, anti-woke warrior, his prominence and popularity is still mostly a product of the pandemic. And the further we get from lockdowns and school closures, the less potent his “land of liberty, land of sanity” message gets.
The lonely liar
George Santos cut an unsurprisingly lonely figure amid the House chaos yesterday. Pictures from the chamber show the rep-elect from Long Island sitting on his own, cutoff from the drama and paying for his fabrications by having no one talk to him, staring at his phone and pretending to be busy. Awkward. Though Santos probably deserves harsher punishment than two years of social embarrassment for the lies he spun to get elected.
What you should be reading today
Charles Fain Lehman: Why Eric Adams has failed to control crime
Cockburn: The rise of Sudden Oligarch Death Syndrome
David Patrikarakos: Edward Luttwak, the uncontained strategist
Elania Plott Calabro, the Atlantic: A Republican congresswoman’s lasting regret
Eli Stokols and Nicholas Wu, Politico: Biden world both humored and terrified by McCarthy meltdown
Dominic Pino, National Review: Population-bombers are going extinct
President Biden job approval
Approve: 43.5 percent
Disapprove: 51.7 percent
Net approval: -8.2 (RCP Average)
Direction of the country
Right direction: 36 percent
Wrong direction: 58 percent (Rasmussen)