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5 January 2023

Republicans are to blame for their self-implosion over Kevin McCarthy

The House leader can’t keep his party together if nobody knows what it stands for.

By Charlotte Kilpatrick

Technically speaking the Republican Party won back the House of Representatives in November’s midterm elections. The red wave that was supposed to sweep through Congress and put Republicans firmly into power, however, turned out to be more like a light pink ripple. Not only did the party manage to win back only a handful of seats in Congress, but on the night of Tuesday 3 January, during the roll-call to elect the presumptive Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy, many Republican members erupted into open revolt.

To become Speaker, a member of Congress needs to secure a majority of votes, which is 218. Normally this isn’t a problem. Since 1923 the Speaker has been confirmed in a single roll-call vote. But to McCarthy’s great embarrassment, the most votes on Tuesday night actually went to the leader of the House Democrats, Hakeem Jeffries, with 212 votes compared with 203 for McCarthy. Since neither got a majority, the House will have to vote again.

The revolt against McCarthy was led by members of the so-called Freedom Caucus, which was founded in 2015 and is made up of some of the most right-wing representatives in Congress. McCarthy’s problem is that as far as Republican politicians go, he is fairly centrist. The polling company and think tank Pew Research Center found that McCarthy has a solid conservative voting record that sits smack in the middle of the right-wing spectrum. Unfortunately for him, centrist politics doesn’t jive right now with the far-right wing of his party.

The reason for this Republican infighting is fairly simple. Unlike the Democrats, Republicans have spent the last ten years injecting their party with crazy. Instead of standing up to Donald Trump and protecting democracy, only ten Republican members of the House voted to impeach the former president for inciting insurrection before the 6 January 2021 riot. McCarthy was not one of them. The Freedom Caucus’s favoured candidate for Speaker is Jim Jordan, one of its founding members. Jordan is speculated to be the most Conservative member of Congress, which really says a lot when it’s filled with the likes of the conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene. Heritage Action for America, a right-wing think tank that measures the conservatism of given members, gives Jordan a 95 per cent score for voting against protection of gay marriage and banning assault weapons.

All of this stands in stark contrast to the Democrats. Despite how Republicans try to paint him, Hakeem Jeffries is not a left-wing radical. He’s built a career on opposing progressive candidates and he supports common-sense ideas like Medicare for All and abortion rights. He was the House impeachment manager during Trump’s first trial, and laid his case against the former president by quoting the rapper Notorious B.I.G. and the musical Hamilton.  

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But to quote another musical, McCarthy and the Republican Party had it coming. A sign of the party’s disintegration came in 2020 when instead of issuing a party manifesto like they have every four years since 1856, the Republicans decided to recycle for once in their lives and submit the 2016 manifesto instead. While the old manifesto was short on policy specifics, the 2020 version came with an additional 50 bullet points that included zingers like “Return to normal in 2021”. It’s impossible to keep a party together if nobody knows what it stands for. Parties are built on platforms that contain objectives, and specifics on how they will be achieved.

If the Republican Party is going to have any future, it needs to come together and realise that “President Trump Fighting for You!” is not policy. Trump is gone and his approval ratings are quickly dwindling. Having the conviction to stand up to the craziest wing of the party is a good way to prove you’ve done some soul searching – and also might make that midterm pink ripple feel more like a victory. 

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[See also: The global affairs forecast for 2023: Crisis in Taiwan and a second run for Joe Biden]