It used to be considered a great job, back in the days of Sam Rayburn and Tip O’Neill. The speaker was powerful. No more.
John Boehner is as pro-life as you can be. But imagine this: He was reluctant to shut the government down over a symbolic vote with no other consequences. It’s not like he hadn’t done it before. He had; and it wasn’t actually good for the Republican Party, not to mention the country. But there is a minority within the Republican caucus that simply doesn’t care about such practicalities. They don’t believe, as Boehner did, that sometimes you actually have to work with the other side to get things done. And they weren’t prepared to support Boehner for another term.
So why is everyone so shocked to see Kevin McCarthy pull out of the race for speaker as he did last week while the Republican caucus convened to nominate candidates? He asked that the election be delayed, and it has been. The search for candidates is on.
Here around California, Mc- Carthy’s home state, Rep. Mc- Carthy is known for being about as conservative as you can get. But ideology really isn’t the issue; it wasn’t the issue with Boehner. The problem with Boehner, at the end of the day, was that he believed he had an obligation to the institution, to Congress, to make it work and get things done. And it’s also the problem with McCarthy, Boehner’s No. 2. He, unlike the small group of Republican Tea Party activists, is ultimately an institutional guy — a conservative, to be sure, but one who believes in the institution of Congress as a governing body, not a stage for guerrilla theater.
So Republicans had to take a break and look for candidates for their leader. If John Boehner and Kevin McCarthy can’t stand up to the right, who can? And if nobody does, what happens to the Republican Party?
The Republicans right now have the largest majority in Congress that they have ever had. Both the House and the Senate are in Republican hands, but the Senate Republicans, unlike their House counterparts, are less keen on guerrilla theater, or are otherwise occupied in such performances in candidate debates. So it is that the Planned Parenthood ploy was never anything but theater. There was no chance of getting 60 votes in the Senate to override a veto, which is one reason, among many, that they weren’t even going to take it up.
As a Democrat, it’s always a little bit of fun to watch the other party publicly splitting into pieces. Historically, we Democrats used to specialize in that, while Republicans always seemed to be able to pull it together. Not anymore. Not since Democrats got used to winning, and the Tea Party came into existence. Bernie Sanders’ support notwithstanding, the Democratic party is a model of unity compared to Republicans, who are going to have trouble finding a speaker who is conservative enough to suit the Tea Party without scaring most of America’s favor.
My guess is that Kevin McCarthy has dreamt of being speaker for years. What leader doesn’t dream of inheriting the top job? But his recognition that he is not the man for the job is a sad commentary on the state of the Republican Party, and the intolerance of its ideologues. Supporting the institutions of government, working together to do the public’s business and serve our needs — these are very conservative principles that lie at the core of our democracy. Belief in them should not disqualify one from serving as Speaker, as it apparently now does.