I am betting against McCarthy as speaker … but who?
Much of the political speculation these days is “will House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy become the Speaker of the House if or when Republicans take control of the chamber in 2023?”
I think not. More correctly, I hope not.
Rather than having proven his leadership abilities during his years as Minority Leader, he seems to have exposed a serious lack of them. To say he is not a dynamic personality is an understatement. As one of the two top office holders in the Republican Party – the other being Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell – McCarthy has been the proverbial man in the grey suit standing against a grey wall.
And when he has appeared in public, more often than not he was on the defensive — creating or explaining his thinking and his representation of Republican philosophy and policies.
McCarthy has too often put himself in boxes from which he cannot escape. I previously commented on his mishandling of the Liz Cheney problem. He did not have sufficient power or moral authority to prevent Cheney and Congressman Adam Kinzinger from casting their lot with Nancy Pelosi’s one-sided Select Committee. McCarthy got hoisted on his own petard with conflicting statements about Trump’s role in the Capitol Hill riot. He has been maladroit in handling the occasional controversies set off by a few of his members. And he has failed to be a strong alternative policy voice against the increasingly unpopular policies of the Biden administration. He has more than a little self-inflicted credibility damage.
We must admit that McCarthy is not in a good position to unite the Republican factions in the house. Rather than being a leader – pulling the divergent members into a team – he seems to be more of a cork on the water – flitting back and forth to alternately appease the factions.
Many speculate it is his way of keeping all sides happy – which he must do if he is to get elected Speaker. He is more likely making both sides unhappy.
He needs to establish a common ground of understanding among his members. His flitting back and forth between the factions will only have one or the other of the factions opposing his ambition – and maybe even members from both factions.
According to Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor-Greene, McCarthy will not have the support of the hardcore conservative members. That may be sufficient to block McCarthy’s ascension to the speakership.
In these times of crazy untraditional political strategies, there is another consideration. Most folks assume that the party with the most members in the House elect the Speaker. Not so. The entire body votes on Speaker
You will recall that there was some question whether House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had enough votes to resume her career as Speaker when Democrats took the House in 2018. With only a small margin in the house, she needed the newly elected radicals to get in line. Some even got elected on a promise to NOT vote for Pelosi. In the end, they did.
Usually by the time of the vote for Speaker, one person emerges as the premier candidate – and receives all the votes of the members of his or her party. The minority party generally votes “no” – or has their own doomed to fail candidate. But they can cross the aisle, as they say, and vote for a person of the other party. In 2001, for example, Ohio Democrat Jim Traficant voted for Republican Denny Hastert for speaker. In response, Democrats refused to assign Traficant to a single committee. It is possible that McCarthy could secure votes from Democrats to overcome what he lacks in his own caucus – but very unlikely.
Of course, to block McCarthy from becoming Speaker there must be a viable alternative. Who would that be?
As a person who would like to see McCarthy replaced, I have my own personal choice – one who I believe could unite the factions. And that would be Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise. I have long viewed him as Speaker material – almost a matter of destiny.
Though he is currently number two on the Republican House team, he has been in the shadow of McCarthy. His greatest notoriety came when he was shot and seriously wounded by a politically motivated mass shooter at the practice session for the annual Congressional Baseball Game.
When Scalise has appeared on television, he has made an exceptionally good impression. It is not only how he frames the issues, but also his personality … his persona.
Scalise is one of the few politicians who comes close to the Ronald Reagan personality. He has a core set of principles, but he advances them without rancor – and often with a sense of humor similar to the former President.
The ever-smiling Scalise never seems hateful or flustered. He is unscathed by the politics of personal destruction – either as an aggressor or a victim. Though not fully appreciated, he is potentially one of the most effective salesmen for Republican philosophy and issues.
Scalise is highly regarded by his Republican House colleagues and by many Democrats as well. He is very popular among GOP moderates and most of the House conservatives. As far as the hardcore right-wingers are concerned, Scalise would at least be the means of getting rid of McCarthy. Scalise would bring to the speakership a visibility and public acceptance unlike any Republican Speaker since Newt Gingrich.
One major issue is whether he would challenge McCarthy. There are a lot of reasons why such an attempt is politically perilous. McCarthy did not get to the top of the GOP leadership without having resources and relationships. Failure to beat McCarthy would likely cost Scalise his current leadership position.
I just believe that it would be good for the GOP, good for Congress and good for the national political climate to replace McCarthy with Scalise. That is what I would do if I were in Congress.
So, there ‘tis.