Did Karma Come for the Chameleon?
Or is this just boilerplate disgrace for Kevin McCarthy?
Kevin McCarthy has had one heck of week. As of the time I’m writing this, he’s been denied the role of Speaker of the House in 13 separate rounds of voting — something that hasn’t happened in 164 years. Heck, this is the first time this process has gone beyond a single round in literally a hundred years.
The reason for this mess, as everyone knows by now, has been a group of MAGA-inspired Republican dissenters, in the House’s razor-thin GOP majority, who’ve decided that they really don’t like McCarthy. Sure, some of them have put forth a little more intelligible reasoning, but several in what has been referred to as the “Never Kevin” caucus (which includes right-wing-media favorites, Matt Gaetz and Lauren Boebert) don’t seem motivated by much more than personal animosity. Well, that and their eternal eagerness to fund-raise off of flamboyant “stick it to the establishment” antics.
Regardless, after days of exhaustive, pathetic groveling and concessions from McCarthy (including some potentially concerning ones), it looks like he may finally sway enough holdouts over to his camp by later tonight, when Congress will reconvene for a 14th round of voting. While nothing’s set in stone quite yet, it appears he’ll finally be granted his longtime dream of holding the Speaker’s gavel.
The word I keep reading in headline after headline describing this debacle is “humiliation.”
This isn’t an unreasonable framing, especially when you consider how McCarthy wound up in this predicament in the first place… ironically on the two-year anniversary of the January 6 insurrection.
It was that day that McCarthy found himself at a crossroads. After two months of shamelessly contributing to the false, Trump-driven narrative that the 2020 election had been stolen, the outrageous violence at the U.S. Capitol seemed to have served as a brief moment of personal introspection. McCarthy spoke out strongly on the role President Trump had played in provoking the riot, and soon after, he sent a letter to fellow House Republicans, putting forth ideas for seeking accountability for what had happened. One of those ideas was “A Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Circumstances Surrounding the Attack.” He even bragged to an interviewer about how he’d stood up to the president on the phone during the riot, demanding that he “Stop this!” and accept the results of the election.
The pro-democracy rhetoric was right for the moment, especially coming from a top party leader. Furthermore, the event and efforts leading up to it provided an excellent political opportunity for the Republican party to finally break free of Trump’s destructive grip.
But that’s not what happened.
Constituent phone calls and Republican polls began coming in, and the message they brought was loud and clear: stand with Trump. So, that’s what McCarthy and most every other Republican member of Congress did. They began shifting blame away from the outgoing president, and McCarthy even had the gall to blame “all Americans” for what happened.
Before the month was over, McCarthy had flown to Mar-a-Lago for a photo-op, and to beg for Trump’s forgiveness.
Like now, the word “humiliation” was used to describe the display of cowardice and servility. It was used again during McCarthy’s subsequent efforts to remove Liz Cheney as House Republican Conference Chair, shut down Republican involvement in the congressional January 6th investigation (that he had previously called for), and avoid meeting with injured Capitol police officers who wanted to express complaints about their treatment.
But is “humiliation” the right term? Does the word even apply to someone like Kevin McCarthy? I’m not convinced it does. That’s because in order to experience humiliation, one must first have the capacity for shame. And I just haven’t seen any evidence that McCarthy does.
Truly, I haven’t. That’s not me simply taking a cheap-shot.
Shame, after all, would have prevented many of the self-debasing decisions he’s made in recent years (all in the laser-focused interest of one day becoming Speaker of the House).
The deep irony in all of this is that if McCarthy had stuck to his guns after January 6, and established himself as a strong leader in a post-Trump GOP, things would probably be looking quite good for him right now. Others in the party would have followed his lead, Trump wouldn’t have the political leverage he still has, and stronger (and less crazy) midterm candidates would have handed Republicans a solid enough House majority that McCarthy wouldn’t need to further disgrace himself (and the rest of his party) to achieve the votes necessary to become Speaker.
Everything we’ve seen McCarthy go through this week has been richly deserved. Some have called it karma. But while many of the GOP leader’s critics have been enjoying a good amount of schadenfreude watching him being devoured by the remaining effects of Trumpism (that he’s helped keep strong within the party over the last two years), I’m a little less enthusiastic.
That’s because I just don’t think he cares… not about how he comes across, and probably not even about any real agenda or the responsibilities of the Speakership itself.
Sure, he may care in the unlikely event that he ultimately loses the job, but it seems to me that he’s proven time after time that he’ll happily sacrifice every ounce of dignity he has… just to achieve that one title (if even for a little while).
That’s a lot of things, but it’s not humiliation.