“Chaos!” screamed legacy media headlines and stunned establishment Republicans last week, when a motion to vacate the House speaker’s chair succeeded by six votes and Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) was removed after nine disappointing months on the job. This motion to vacate the speaker’s chair, filed by Representative Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), was the first in American history to succeed, and only the third ever attempted.
Contrary to the direst predictions of the quivering Washington GOP, the process was neither chaotic nor unjustified. The motion was carried on the first vote. Within hours of the ouster, the House Republican Conference settled on two likely candidates, House Judiciary Committee chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and House majority leader Steve Scalise (R-La.), to replace McCarthy, who promptly pledged not to seek reelection. Jordan and Scalise are both widely respected in the House Republican Conference and unlikely to face an especially difficult or prolonged election when the House reconvenes on Wednesday to choose a new speaker.
Notably, this was untrue for McCarthy, who was the first speaker since 1923 not to be elected on the first ballot and proceeded to run in 15 memorably chaotic rounds of balloting before finally prevailing—curiously without being denounced for creating “chaos.” In the end, he only became speaker by desperately making promises to Republican skeptics that he failed to keep, and sheepishly agreeing that a motion to vacate his post could come from just one congressman rather than the usual higher number of members, which generally ranges from five to 20.
That episode was far more “chaotic” than Gaetz’s motion, which was rooted in well-founded objections to McCarthy’s poor leadership, and was procedurally correct under the House’s operating rules, which McCarthy had accepted in order to win election as speaker. McCarthy could have ended his race at any time during his 15 ballots, acknowledging that he did not enjoy the support of a unified House Conference whose slim four-seat majority demanded a level of unity and discipline that the House Democratic Conference has somehow managed to perfect. Instead, he pressed on, only taking the prize after knowingly making himself vulnerable to easy removal and pledging dubious support for policies and tactics that he previously rejected.
Put plainly, McCarthy knew the liabilities, accepted the risks, and when the game was up, walked away. Revealingly, he told a journalist who asked what advice he might give a successor, “change the rules.” The only minor show of disapproval in the chamber arose when Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.), who will serve as speaker pro tempore until a new speaker is elected, passive-aggressively slammed down his gavel, making him look like a confounded cartoon character not getting his way, a bow-tied Elmer Fudd who just can’t believe he was outwitted by someone younger (McHenry is 47 to Gaetz’s 41, but looks and acts twice the Florida congressman’s age).
McHenry’s attitude reflects that of the GOP establishment writ large. Spending enough time in Washington can cow even nominally “conservative” Republicans into accepting that they are members of a de facto coalition government with Democrats, a permanent “uniparty” in which they are always the browbeaten junior partner, even when they hold the majority. Disrupting the orderliness of their collaboration, as Gaetz did, challenges this status quo. Is it any surprise that grown men who seriously worry about not receiving D.C. cocktail party invitations would hem and haw about principle as Florida Conservatism triumphs in practice? Ask New York Times chief Washington correspondent Carl Hulse, who unironically commented that McCarthy’s demise “reflected the challenge of wielding a Republican majority that refuses to be governed.” How dare it!
In the meantime, McCarthy frittered away his speakership violating promise after promise. When elected, he assured his conference that he would insist on spending reductions and work to reduce the national debt. Instead, he agreed to a $2 trillion deficit on top of the $33 trillion already owed, a reckless financial embarrassment that Gaetz reasonably described as “chaos.”
McCarthy promised a muscular inquiry into possible criminal activity by President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, including subpoenas, which House Democrats freely used when investigating former president Donald Trump. Instead, McCarthy’s investigations have been slow and lackadaisical, even by pathetic Washington standards, and no personal subpoenas have been issued—all while Trump, who is now confounding uniparty sentiments as the GOP’s frontrunner, is subjected to relentless civil and criminal prosecutions that are widely regarded as politically motivated even though congressional Republicans have the as-yet unused power to defund those investigations.
Just a week before losing his seat, McCarthy worked to pass a continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown that excluded more funds for Ukraine—aid that 55 percent of Americans oppose because they realize that risking direct U.S. involvement in the war could escalate to a nuclear exchange. As chaotic as that would be, it is widely suspected that McCarthy, who personally supports increased funding for Ukraine, entertained a separate deal with the Biden administration to maintain the funding through other means.
Any of these profiles in cowardice could have damned McCarthy months ago. Collectively, they made his ouster nearly inevitable. Most significantly of all, however, his removal resulted from his worst quality: his utter failure to please his conference, which has caused Republicans to lose all year and would have continued to cause them to lose for as long he remained in place. That might have suited GOP establishmentarians, but fortunately for everyone else McCarthy is gone, for good reasons and following correct procedures.
Paul du Quenoy is President of the Palm Beach Freedom Institute.
The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.