Burning down the House

Published January 5, 2023

By Thomas Mills

Hold tight. Wait ’til the party’s over. Hold tight. We’re in for nasty weather. There has got to be a way. Burning down the house.

David Byrne, describing yesterday’s Speaker votes.

I had more fun watching Republicans prove their incompetence yesterday. Kevin McCarthy may be the most hapless politician of our time. This is the second time that he’s thought he would be Speaker. Last time, an alleged affair with North Carolina Congresswoman Renee Ellmers helped derail his bid. This time, the grifter Congressman Dan Bishop from Charlotte is one of the 20 holdouts keeping McCarthy away from the gavel. Another North Carolina Member of Congress, Patrick McHenry, has been floated as a possible alternative.

One Republican described the GOP’s failed attempt to elect a new Speaker of the House as a “shitshow.” That’s a pretty accurate description of the state of the whole party. They showed us what happens when a major political party refuses to hold accountable the grifters, conspiracy theorists, and misanthropes in their midst.

The seeds of yesterday’s debacle were sown decades ago with Nixon’s Southern Strategy and they sprouted with the Tea Party during Barack Obama’s first term. The movement claimed to be about lower taxes and less government but it was infused with racists, charlatans, and tinfoil hat-wearing extremists. Instead of policing them, the GOP embraced them, defending them against charges of bigotry and extremism. Emboldened, they grew in power until they nominated one their own for president.

During four years of lying, graft, empowering fascists, and, finally, attempting to incite a coup, Republicans in Congress and their allies in conservative media never once held Donald Trump accountable. They refused to be the check on power that the Constitution demands. Now that Trump has been exposed and the American people have seen through the charade, the GOP is stuck with the corruption and extremism the party nurtured.

As Mona Charen writes at the Bulwark, “The battle unfolding over the speakership is not between the extremists and the establishment. It’s between two camps of extremists.” On policy, McCarthy has been with the Freedom Caucus right down the line. But he knows better and they don’t, so they don’t trust him.

Now, McCarthy lacks the trust of anybody. He put politics above the wellbeing of the country. He told people what they wanted to hear. And he made a bad bet on Donald Trump. He’s facing the consequences of his actions and those of his party.

Earlier this week, I predicted McCarthy would become speaker after an ugly fight. Now, I’m second guessing that prediction. The opposition is locked in and doesn’t appear willing to budge. Republicans will likely need to find an alternative. Last time that happened, we ended up with Paul Ryan, one of the most unsuccessful speakers in modern history. Good luck to a party that has set itself on fire.