An admission of personal bias: I have little to no respect for academics or intellectuals who write about the Congress of the United States. As a student, I was taught by brilliant professors about the dynamics of legislative decisions and negotiation, the nooks and crannies of process and debate, the give and take, the game theory at play. Then, when I arrived on Capitol Hill, within a month I discovered that a certain member had completely changed his position on a piece of legislation — a 180-degree reversal from where he stood before. When I asked an aged veteran legislative aide about why this was possibly the case, he looked at me, bemused, and asked — “He’s getting a divorce. Which lobbyist do you think his wife slept with? This is personal, not politics.”
The scales fall from the eyes and you find the personal, in this case, the personal grievances of one Matt Gaetz, the man with the slick hair from Hollywood, Florida, who today achieved something that has not even been seriously attempted in a century-plus: the ouster of the speaker of the House, in this case Kevin McCarthy.
This motion to vacate the chair was not surprising in the least. Anyone who witnessed the January Sturm und Drang could observe that McCarthy was not long for the world of the speakership — that he would have to make it to the 2024 election, and expand his majority, or fall to the whims of a decidedly intransigent eight to ten members willing to do a historic knifing for reasons yet to be determined.
The oddity of it was how this whole process played against type for all the narratives previously established in mass media. McCarthy was not at war with MAGA. He was and is MAGA, embracing Trump, promoting Marjorie Taylor Greene — while also establishing détente with the true fiscal conservatives, people such as Chip Roy and Thomas Massie (who extracted Rules Committee appointments from the fight), and with the moderates, including the many New York and California representatives who found themselves winners in the odd 2022 cycle. Somehow, McCarthy cobbled together a coalition. But the island of misfit toys that held out to the end — led, most charismatically, by Matt Gaetz — remained. They extracted no promises from McCarthy, but came along by force of will and under pressure from their colleagues.
Understand that Matt Gaetz did not in fact want to catch the car. He did not actually want to be standing in front of Ilhan Omar and AOC and the Democratic coalition in making his ludicrous case that the individual appropriations bills he helped block were now the be all and end all of McCarthy’s speakership. He was visibly flustered and angry when Garret Graves, one of the most serious members of Congress and likely a future speaker if he wants the job, challenged him from the well on raising money off his motion to vacate.
But Gaetz blames McCarthy for the continued investigation into his alleged sex trafficking of a minor, so again, the feeling is personal, not politics.
Gaetz almost certainly calculated — because unlike some of his compatriots, he is smart enough to calculate — that McCarthy would fight back against his attempt to vacate by cutting a deal with the Democrats. Such a deal could be fodder for more fundraising and denunciation. It’s reasonable. That deal was almost certainly there. McCarthy could have done any number of things related to Ukraine funding alone to satisfy enough centrist Democrats to render this vacate attempt moot.
Instead, McCarthy chose to die on his feet. Gaetz invited chaos, convinced enough Republicans to go along with him, and now has to live with the consequences. A Hakeem Jeffries speakership might be perfect for him. To rail against the Washington uniparty of 208 Democrats and eight Republicans who dashed hopes of impeachment and any fiscal hedge against everything the Senate wants could prove quite profitable, even if you were one of those eight.
Wherever Republicans go from here, if it is possible to go anywhere from here, this moment proved the limits of Donald Trump’s hold on the Washington GOP. Trump backed McCarthy at every turn. He backed him for the speakership. He backed him on multiple policy fights. He backed him, even just today, decrying the infighting among House GOPers. But Gaetz didn’t seem to fear that at all.
Perhaps this is an indication of Tucker Carlson supplanting Donald Trump as the most influential MAGA voice. Carlson, whose own personal gripes against McCarthy are widely known, has opposed him at every turn, often for reasons that betray how catty and petty his grievances are. Or perhaps it’s a win for Ron DeSantis, who reminded viewers of his early opposition to McCarthy on Fox today.
This remains to be seen. In the meantime, Gaetz has reaped and will reap the financial rewards that set him up for his planned run for the governorship of Florida — coinciding with his father’s planned return to the Florida legislature. These Florida men and their personal gripes seem to hold sway over the whole of the Republican Party, and there is no explaining it away with political trends. Throw out the record books — these teams just hate each other.