McCarthy Falls Short of Speakership on the 14th Ballot

Establishment Republicans in Washington proved over the last four days why a lot of them disappeared – or reserved no subsequent words of significant revulsion – as rank-and-file Donald Trump supporters overran the U.S. Capitol two years ago to the day.

Wearing Halloween costumes and wreaking havoc is easy.

Governing is hard, particularly when the general election red wave they coaxed and stoked and coached and counted on never showed up last year.

Confident of victory tonight, U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, failed to prevail on his 14th try, the anvil of Jan. 6th, 2021 much in evidence as he could not drag across the jagged GOP finish line.

He had exactly half the support of the chamber.

216 of 432.

(His Democratic opponent, Hakeem Jeffries, received 212).

Not good enough.

He needed a single vote.

And that single vote would not move.

If the precise content of his spiritual confessions eluded the public eye, McCarthy’s concessions to the rightwing that gnawed at him all week would hardly put him in the strong speaker tradition of someone like Tip O’Neill.

As it was, his inability to tally and hold a majority held him hostage.

Initially, McCarthy appeared to have at last ceased the cannibalizing, never-McCarthy tantrums of Lauren Boebert, and Matt Gaetz, even if Andy Biggs early cast his last vote of the crisis in favor of Jim Jordan.

But Gaetz and Boebert refused to budge their votes from present to “aye” to give McCarthy a majority of one or two.

Realizing his deficit, McCarthy confronted Gaetz.

The men snapped at each other on the floor.

A physical altercation ensued.

McCarthy subsequently called for a 15th vote.

New Jersey’s Republican delegation – U.S. Rep. Chris Smith, U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, and U.S. Rep.-elect Tom Kean, Jr. – had backed McCarthy from the beginning.

Kean throughout occupied the unenviable position of having to sit behind the moving conveyor belt of Gatez, Biggs, Boebert and others – Chip Roy, at one point – who derided McCarthy and packaged several alternatives, all of whom ultimately failed. All at once, Kean had to try to look respectful, horrified, simultaneously sympathetic to the anarchists’ cause and reviled by it, sufficiently concerned by the rightwing of his party to soothe New Jersey moderates, and yet not enough to further furrow his brow and awaken the ire of the rightward reaches of the 7th Congressional District.

It was an exhausting, three-day facial tightrope just to witness, let alone walk.

Then again, Kean, bubble wrapped by the assurances of a reapportioned 7th District, chose silence as his chief method of communicating. Those nuances of his visible reactions alone became the congressman-elect’s closest approximation of substance offered up to the scrutinizing public eye.

It was an intriguing glimpse of the elusive Kean, one made even more interesting by the fact that he is the son of the New Jersey Republican politician who once grabbed a handful of opportunistic Democrats to add to his Republican minority to make himself speaker of the New Jersey General Assembly. Central to the modern mythology of New Jersey politics, Kean senior’s ability to cross the aisle in search of a coalition-majority on his own behalf, made his son a symbolic suggestion of a strategy to be had here, if Democrats could only find five soulless transactional Republicans in the room.

Nationally, at least to this point, no one thought enough of the ghost of David Friedland, apparently, to counsel Kean, Jr., to move and thereby deprive Democrats of a conceivable, New Jersey-inspired game plan; or maybe this era had hardened safely beyond GOP fears of defection.

Intra-party internal fracture remained McCarthy’s gravest threat, not a good sign two years removed from the day a mob overran and desecrated the United States Capitol on the orders of a president who lost an election.

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