Bottom Line: Kevin McCarthy and Conservatives Both Won
It was 15 rounds of voting, but it might just as well have been 15 rounds of heavyweight boxing.
Like the great championship fights of yesteryear, the battle for the speakership of the House of Representatives was a brutal, protracted, unpredictable clash of wills, the winner of which never seemed certain until it was suddenly over.
And when it was over, Kevin McCarthy – the soft-spoken kid from Bakersfield – stood bloody but unbowed as his hand was held up in the air by a fellow congressman to signify what we all had seen: Here was a man who could take a punch, here was a man determined to prevail, here was a man undeterred by naysayers and critics, who ventured into the glaring lights of the arena and bravely fought till all his challengers had fallen.
And no matter what you thought about McCarthy going into the fight, you had to respect him afterwards. Oh wait. Not so fast.
That’s not the approved narrative. If you watched the four-day process of electing a speaker on mainstream media instead of through the unbiased cameras of C-SPAN, you would have been told that McCarthy was weak, humiliated, struggling, and “held hostage” by the conservative members of his own Republican conference.
The talking heads on the cable news networks were shocked (shocked, I tell you!) that the 20 so-called rebels in the Republican Party would not give McCarthy their votes on the first 14 ballots. To hear Jake Tapper and his ilk tell it, you would think that the one thing democracy can’t stand is independent thought. How dare these despicable “weirdos and freaks” (as Joe Scarborough likes to call those he disagrees with) withhold their votes from McCarthy, even if he is considered equally despicable. Heck, even Fox News host Sean Hannity was taking conservative House members to the woodshed for their refusal to accede to the anointing of McCarthy post-haste.
Yes, it’s true that no election of a speaker had gone past the first ballot since 1923, when nine rounds of voting were required to elect Republican Frederick Gillett of Massachusetts. But it is by no means unheard of for the speaker election to be a true battle rather than a coronation. As we learned this month, McCarthy’s election was the 15th time multiple rounds were required. The fact that it hasn’t happened for 100 years is the future answer in a game of “Trivial Pursuit,” not evidence that democracy is on its last legs. If it’s in the rules, it’s in the rules, no matter how much it shocks the system of faint-hearted windbags on cable news.
The beauty of our republic is that we have a rule for nearly every contingency. It’s when we don’t (such as when allegations of election fraud are left unheard by courts) that we run into trouble.
Now, after the fact, it has become a truism that somehow the 20 “rebels” from the House Freedom Caucus forced McCarthy into accepting heinous conditions before they would give him their votes. This is the “hostage-taking narrative,” but when we actually stop and look at the so-called concessions, they were almost all agreed to by the Republican conference before the first vote. One of the few exceptions was the agreement to allow one individual member of the House to introduce a “motion to vacate the chair.” McCarthy had proposed that the number should be five.
But either one or five was a huge improvement over the Nancy Pelosi era rule, when a majority of members of either party would need to agree to the resolution before it would be accepted. And the difference between one and five was of symbolic value only, since the rebels had already proven that they could easily put five votes together whenever they felt betrayed by McCarthy.
Beyond that, the most significant concession we know of is an agreement by McCarthy not to use his PAC to fund candidates in open-seat primaries in safe GOP districts. Bravo. There is no reason for congressional leaders to choose favorites when the voters can more appropriately do so. But that is really a political matter that has nothing to do with the operation of the House per se.
The House rules that were changed were welcomed by almost the entire Republican conference, with one outlier holdout – Texas Rep. Tony Gonzales, who made no friends for himself – and it should be remembered that a scant few members of the Republican majority could have easily rejected the rules package, regardless of any “deals” made between McCarthy and the rebels if that had been their desire. Almost all the rules were welcome changes from the dictatorial control exercised by Pelosi.
In other words, the House Freedom Caucus got everything it wanted, even though many of its members never approved of McCarthy on a personal basis. McCarthy got everything he wanted, too. It took four days to reach the accord, a time frame which apparently pissed off the reporters and analysts forced to work long days and some late nights. But four days and 15 rounds of voting to achieve near unanimity is actually a major accomplishment that signals a path to unity.
Maybe that’s what all those talking heads in the media are afraid of. Instead of fighting each other for the next two years, Republicans may now be able to focus entirely on their real opponents – the Biden administration and the Democrats in Congress who seem intent on transforming America into a Third World dumpster fire.
This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.