First, the good news. There’s a chance that Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, will not be the next speaker of the House.
Now, the very bad news. With Republicans poised to take control by a slim margin, McCarthy will sell out this nation and its democracy to be House speaker. He will kowtow to the racist jackals and Jan. 6 defenders in his party and drag this country through hell if that means getting the gavel in his undeserving hands.
Of course McCarthy’s election is not a foregone conclusion. Come January, he might not have enough votes from his fellow House Republicans to secure the job he has always wanted. He won the nomination for speaker, but that vote didn’t come without significant pushback from his party’s extremists who see McCarthy as a feckless coward unwilling to facilitate their plunge into the far-right abyss.
McCarthy easily won that first round, 188 to 31, but those numbers won’t cut it in a final vote, which is little more than a month away.
“Our current candidate for Speaker doesn’t have the 218 votes necessary to become Speaker on January 3, 2023,” said Representative Andy Biggs, an Arizona Republican, who challenged McCarthy for the speakership nomination and lost. “I do not believe he will ever get to 218 votes, and I refuse to assist him in his effort to get those votes.”
McCarthy hasn’t waited this long and gotten this close to realizing his political dream to have it derailed now. And because he is a feckless coward, there are few lines he won’t cross to get those votes.
But McCarthy won’t sell his soul. He can’t. He already gave that away after the Jan. 6 insurrection. While McCarthy privately roasted Trump for inciting his white supremacist followers in an attempt to upend the 2020 presidential election outcome, he also recognized this: If Republicans regained the House, the path to the speakership would go through Mar-a-Lago.
McCarthy folded faster than a broken beach chair. Weeks later, there he was smiling and standing shoulder to shoulder with Trump in the former president’s vulgar Florida mansion. An infernal deal had been struck.
Clearly, part of that deal is amplifying hate-spewing zealots like Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican. A self-described “Christian nationalist,” she told The New York Times that “to please the base, [McCarthy’s] going to give me a lot of power and a lot of leeway. And if he doesn’t, they’re going to be very unhappy about it.”
Gone are the days when McCarthy publicly condemned Greene for spreading antisemitic conspiracies and comparing mask mandates to Holocaust atrocities. He has promised to put her back on committees after her absurd tales from the QAnon crypt got her bounced from all assignments last year. In return, Greene has temporarily broken from the House’s right-wing ranks and says she will support McCarthy’s bid for speaker.
Every acquiescence McCarthy makes to his party’s extremists is a loss for America. They’re demanding pointless and time-consuming investigations so that’s what McCarthy is promising. If they want Biden administration officials impeached, McCarthy is leaving that possibility wide open. Never mind that solutions for mending the economy, reducing inflation, and addressing climate change won’t be found in Hunter Biden’s laptop.
Meanwhile, it took McCarthy a week to finally denounce Trump’s recent dinner guest, an avowed white supremacist. “I don’t think anybody should be spending any time with Nick Fuentes. He has no place in this Republican Party,” McCarthy told reporters Tuesday. But he stopped well short of directly criticizing Trump. He won’t risk offending his boss and will tread carefully around the party’s base of racists, Holocaust deniers, antisemites, and white evangelical Christian nationalists.
Besides, what happens at Mar-a-Lago is a distraction for McCarthy. He remains focused only on becoming the first Republican since Paul Ryan to get that coveted gavel — which he said last year it would “be hard not to hit” outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with if he becomes speaker.
In the age of Trump, whichever Republican is elected speaker will be a dire choice. But McCarthy’s intentions are already clear. He’ll leave this nation in tatters to satisfy his ambitions. Now when I see McCarthy, I apply to him the line Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina spat at Democrats during Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court confirmation hearing: “Boy, [you] want power. God, I hope you never get it.”
Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.