A worker replaces a sign over the office of U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy

A worker replaces a sign over the office of U.S. Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) after being elected as Speaker in the U.S. Capitol Building on January 07, 2023 in Washington, DC. After four days of voting and 15 ballots McCarthy secured enough votes to become Speaker of the House for the 118th Congress.

(Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

McCarthy Did Not "Cave" To the Right-Wing. He Is the Right-Wing

When Marjorie Taylor Greene is the pivot on which "the mainstream" turns, then what exactly has the "mainstream" become?

After a bitter, grueling, melodramatic and days-long contest on the House floor, Kevin McCarthy was finally elected as Speaker of the House just after the clock struck midnight on the early morning of January 7.

His “far-right” Republican opponents, led by Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert, relented, after fourteen ballots, by voting “present” rather than for an alternative, as they had thirteen previous times. Gaetz in particular played his opposition for all it was worth. While it remains to be seen exactly what concessions McCarthy made to Gaetz and his gang—who numbered anywhere from 6 to 20 as the process unfolded—it is clear that huge concessions were made, related to House rules, committee assignments, and perhaps even the vigor with which the Republican Inquisition of both Biden and the entire federal government will now proceed (that such an Inquisition would the first order of Republican business has never been in doubt).

Every fracture and every contest within the Republican party matters, for the effectiveness (and vulnerabilities) of that party and for the workings of the government. But much too much is being made of the contest between McCarthy and the opponents–Republicans all–who held up his ascension for fourteen ballots before giving their very visible tacit consent.

The desire to see the Gaetzes of the world as crazy extremists beyond the pale runs so deep among the commentariat that even the very best pundits fall prey to it.

The desire to see the Gaetzes of the world as crazy extremists beyond the pale runs so deep among the commentariat that even the very best pundits fall prey to it. A case in point: Saturday’s Washington Post column by E.J. Dionne, Jr., one of the sharpest liberal writers in the country (full disclosure: he is a friend), entitled “How the right took joy and profit in McCarthy’s misery.” It might be possible to chalk up the piece’s unfortunate headline–which counterposes McCarthy and “the right”—to the work of a creative Post editor, were it not for the fact that the entire piece centers on this very contrast, pitting “members of an extreme minority” against “McCarthy and his lieutenants.”

That these cliques disagreed is obvious. And Dionne is surely correct to note that 90% of the House Republican caucus supported McCarthy and rejected every candidate advanced by his opponents. But he is seriously wrong to regard this contest between these two unevenly divided Republican factions as a contest between extremist ideologues and more mainstream politicians interested in bargaining with others and serious about what he calls “normal governance.”

Dionne, acknowledging that much of the opposition to McCarthy was personal, nonetheless insists:

But all of the initial holdouts were motivated by a sense of grievance against what most everyone else sees as mainstream politics; a longing for government shrunken to pre-New Deal levels; an insistence that Washington is an alien place; and a view of “the people” shaped by those who nominate, elect and sustain them in office — and pretty much no one else.”

The clear implication is that those who the “holdouts” were opposing—McCarthy and his roughly 200 Republican supporters—were not motivated by this “sense of grievance,” were not interested in turning back the clock on the New Deal (and let’s not forget the sixties especially not hatred of Obama), and were committed instead to “what most everyone else sees as mainstream politics.”

Dionne goes on to note, as he has analyzed in a number of books, that the Republican Party has shifted far to the right in recent decades. But he still insists on regarding McCarthy and his lieutenants as “mainstream” politicians rather than “right-wing extremists.”

The problem is that McCarthy’s “chief lieutenants”—Steve Scalise, Elise Stefaniak, and Jim Jordan—are right-wing extremists, and that the person who did the most to finally convince “the holdouts” to cease their opposition to McCarthy was none other than Marjorie Taylor Greene, who apparently took a phone call from Donald Trump that eventually persuaded Gaetz and his “Never Kevins” to stop opposing “My Kevin.” When Marjorie Taylor Greene is the pivot on which “the mainstream” turns, then said mainstream has been become pretty “extreme.”

When Marjorie Taylor Greene is the pivot on which “the mainstream” turns, then said mainstream has been become pretty “extreme.”

Jim Jordan, after all, is one of the founders and leaders of the so-called “Freedom Caucus” that is responsible for pushing the Republican party far to the right and into the arms of Trump. Jordan did not need pressure from Gaetz to make very clear, many months and perhaps even years ago, that if Republicans retook the House he was determined to use his control of the House Judiciary Committee to launch investigations against the White House, Anthony Fauci, the Justice Department, the FBI, and perhaps even the now-defunct House Select January 6 Committee.

Indeed, McCarthy himself has long threatened the impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas, declaring only months ago before television cameras that “if Secretary Mayorkas does not resign, House Republicans will investigate every order, every action and every failure, and will determine whether we can begin an impeachment inquiry.”

The morning after his election as Speaker, McCarthy went out of his way to thank “President Trump” for his support, stating forthrightly that “I don’t think anybody should doubt his influence. He was with me from the very beginning—he was all in.”

Is Trump now to be considered “mainstream?”

It seems appropriate to leave the last word on this to Marjorie Taylor Greene, who on the afternoon of January 6, in the middle of the Speaker contest, posted a link on her Twitter feed to an interview she had given explaining “the REAL story of January 6, 2021” which centered on the allegation that “federal agents” were “involved in the planning and execution of J6,” and then two hours later posted the following photo under the caption “Congratulations Mr. Speaker!”:

Marjorie Taylor Greene and Kevin McCarthy selfieA selfie of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene and newly-elected Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy.(Photo: MTG / Twitter)

So in the end, Greene and Trump persuaded Gaetz and Boebert to assent to the Speakership of McCarthy.

Who are the extremists?

Who caved to whom?

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