In the era of Trump, many on the Right have looked to the Democratic Party’s ruthless partisan discipline as a model. “Democrats,” disillusioned conservatives like to say, “stick together at all costs.” They don’t have grandstanding moralizers like Adam Kinzinger or Liz Cheney, who constantly bash their own party’s lack of “principle” from their sinecures in cable news. As the Democrats have reminded the country with their mockery of Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would never tolerate the kind of dissension that McCarthy faced over the past week in his path to become speaker of the House.
The McCarthy drama shows, if nothing else, that Republicans have yet to embrace the Pelosi model. While they may crave the Left’s partisan unity, Republicans do not agree about who their real enemies are. The anti-McCarthy rebels demanded more aggressive and authentically conservative leadership than what the “RINOs” have to offer, and yet, their efforts undoubtedly divided the party, to the frustration of more moderate members who feared Democrats taking control.
The hysterical backlash that the 20 dissidents faced from all sides was unwarranted. It was vicious and absurd to call them “terrorists” or to say that they were undermining “democracy.” At the same time, it is unfair to attack as “RINOs” and “sellouts” those who, including Donald Trump, did not see any point in going along indefinitely with what turned out to be, essentially anti-establishment political theater, borne out of righteous anger, perhaps, but political theater all the same. Some of the rebels doubtless had sincere intentions, but others, like Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), were obviously taking the piss. (Trump for speaker of the House? Hilarious, but come on.)
The drama having reached its seemingly inevitable conclusion, Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene come out of this looking like the voices of reason amid a storm of passion that achieved little.
The vacillations of the 20 made it clear they never had a realistic strategy for achieving their stated aim. Perhaps the problem is that the anti-McCarthy rebels were in protest of the GOP as an institution. They have weighty grievances with what McCarthy represents, not necessarily McCarthy the man. But the system McCarthy represents, it turns out, still supports Kevin McCarthy. That includes MAGA favorites like Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), Thomas Massie (R-Ky.), and ultimately, many of the 20 rebels who originally stood in opposition. Are these people all “RINO sellouts” for coming around to reality?
With a high enough threshold, anyone can be a “RINO.” The failure of the NeverMcCarthy group (I speak here of those totally committed to a different speaker, not those looking for concessions) to propose a viable alternative they would find ideologically satisfying (or who even wanted the job) leads one to surmise that they find the GOP itself incorrigible and worthy of destruction (an understandable viewpoint). But that despairing premise resigns one to “burn it down” nihilism, which isn’t helpful.
Politics requires coalition building, which is difficult when one builds alliances based on a battery of rigid litmus tests. Unfortunately, the GOP is not very conservative to begin with and has a narrow majority that is padded with moderates. That is just reality. McCarthy, while not quite satisfying to the ideologue, has built relationships with moderates as well as so-called “far-Right” people like Trump and Marjorie Taylor Greene. And to his credit, McCarthy has proven responsive to pressure from the Right: unlike Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has continued to loudly condemn the “insurrection” while palling around with Joe Biden, McCarthy has shut up about January 6 and wanted no part of Pelosi’s show trial.
One has to question the thinking of those who say they would rather have a vicious anti-white demagogue like Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) in charge than a squish like McCarthy, who can at least be nudged in the right direction.
The alleged concessions the rebels received, while yet unclear, are certainly welcome, but one is doubtful of their impact. The likeliest positive outcome is that MAGA keeps McCarthy on a tight leash. Then again, given his narrow majority, McCarthy was on a tight leash to begin with, as the likes of MTG said repeatedly. Which makes you wonder what all of this drama accomplished that the results of the last election had not already achieved.
Conservatives are right to feel tired of being a junior partner with the more liberal GOP. But if the Right must choose between ideological purity and partisan unity, it would be unwise to sacrifice the latter on the altar of the former.