Humiliation All the Way Down
Kevin McCarthy's latest grovel
(Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A well-known scientist (some say it was Bertrand Russell) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the centre of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: "What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise." The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, "What is the tortoise standing on?" "You're very clever, young man, very clever," said the old lady. "But it's turtles all the way down!" — Stephen Hawking A Brief History of Time
In the event that you exercised the good judgment to go off the grid over the holiday weekend, you may have missed this latest insight into the taxonomy of the GOP:
The backstory is familiar, but it’s fascinating nonetheless, if only as an example of the depth of self-humiliation required to be a ”leader” in the party these days.
MTG’s call with Kevin McCarthy came shortly after the deplorable freshman congresswoman threatened to torpedo McCarthy’s ambition to be elected Speaker of the House. Appearing on Rep. Matt Gaetz's “Firebrand” podcast, Greene declared that McCarthy “doesn’t have the votes” to be speaker.
And then she laid out her complaints and demands.
“Many of us,” she said, “ are very unhappy about the failure to hold Republicans accountable, while conservatives like me, Paul Gosar, and many others just constantly take the abuse by the Democrats.”
For Greene, it’s not enough that McCarthy backed the purge of Liz Cheney from leadership, or that he has continued to publicly back Greene, Gosar, and Lauren Boebert.
She wants retribution. Specifically, she wants Cheney and Trump-critic Adam Kinzinger expelled from the the GOP altogether. She also wants to see the Republicans who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill punished — especially John Katko, who not only voted for the bill, but also had the temerity to back the impeachment of Donald Trump.
“Katko’s not a Republican,” Greene said on Gaetz’s podcast. “He’s a Democrat.”
The unambiguous implication here: If McCarthy does not appease Greene, she and the other deplorables might withhold their votes from McCarthy, denying him (once again) the dearest object of his ambition. That ambition — which has slipped from his grasp before — is the passion, and obsession of McCarthy’s life. It is the lodestar that guides his every action and utterance.
Kevin McCarthy wants to be speaker so badly that he has been willing to sacrifice every bit of his independence and pride to get it — from truckling to Donald Trump, to turning a blind eye to the conspiracy-theorists and bigots in his caucus.
There was once a time when a party leader might have simply ignored sniping from a freshman, or slapped down an unhinged backbencher. But McCarthy is not that leader. And so the man who would be third in line to the presidency picked up the phone, and pandered to the first term QAnon-adjacent MTG.
The reviews have been blistering:
Marjorie Taylor Greene 🇺🇸 @mtgreeneeI just got off a good call with @GOPLeader. We spent time talking about solving problems not only in the conference, but for our country. I like what he has planned ahead.
Of course, McCarthy sees it differently. He calculates that bending the knee to Greene is simply the price he has to pay to wield the gavel. He is confident that Republicans will win back the House next year, putting him within tantalizing reach of the object of his desire. If sucking up to Gaetz/Greene/Boebert/Gosar & Co. is the price he has to pay for power… he’s more than willing.
History is full of tradeoffs for power.
Explaining his sudden conversion to Catholicism, the French king, Henry IV, reportedly quipped, “Paris is worth a mass.”
For McCarthy, the gavel is worth a humiliating phone call.
If he becomes speaker it will all be worth it.
But then what?
One suspects that McCarthy is not much given to introspection, so it’s not likely he’s asked the question: After he comes to his throne, what then?
What will happen to a speaker who rose to power by shrinking himself? What sort of power will be wielded by a man who obtained it through displays of weakness?
The problem, of course, is that appeasement begets appeasement. As Politico’s Playbook noted:
This isn’t the end of this saga. It appears that MTG is just beginning to understand the depth of her power over McCarthy, who has been angling for years to become speaker. She has DONALD TRUMP’S ear and the following of about a dozen House rabble-rousers. She’s clearly starting to see that any time she doesn’t like something McCarthy does, all she has to do is call foul and lord his speakership dreams over his head. It’s going to be a very, very long year ahead for the House GOP leader.
But this reflects the taxonomy of power in the GOP. Our colleague Amanda Carpenter nailed this back in May.
MTG isn’t chastened by verbal slaps on the wrists. She’s emboldened….
Greene knows where she stands. As long as she has Trump’s support and keeps his voters in the GOP tent, she’s calling the shots. Not McCarthy.
This weekend’s phone call was simply a reminder of that over-arching reality. Trump holds the GOP leadership hostage; and that leadership is held hostage by its most junior members, who in turn, are creatures of a political culture that is increasingly inflamed.
In the GOP, it’s humiliation all the way down.
As the Omicron Variant Spreads
Via Axios: “GOP courts anti-vaxxers with jobless aid.”
Republican officials around the country are testing a creative mechanism to build loyalty with unvaccinated Americans while undermining Biden administration mandates: unemployment benefits.
Driving the news: Florida, Iowa, Kansas and Tennessee have changed their unemployment insurance rules to allow workers who are fired or quit over vaccine mandates to receive benefits.
Headline over at NBC News: “Laser-focused on 2020, Trump seeks a Michigan Legislature that could help him in 2024.”
In this context, ‘help” means “steal.”
Trump’s focus on the state illuminates just how driven he is to exact revenge on those who haven’t supported his baseless claim that the last election was stolen from him. It’s also a play to install allies who could be helpful should he run for president again in 2024 and find himself locked in another close race. The Republican-controlled Legislature spent eight months investigating the results of the 2020 presidential election and found no reason to doubt their legitimacy. GOP leaders have also refused to accede to Trump’s demands for a ballot review like the one Republicans authorized in Arizona, which found no proof of fraud and concluded that Biden defeated Trump in the state by even more votes than the certified tally showed.
“Michigan needs a new legislature,” Trump wrote in his Nov. 15 endorsement of Rachelle Smit for state representative. “The cowards there now are too spineless to investigate Election Fraud.”
Meanwhile, in Arizona
ICYMI over the weekend, my latest on the verdict in the Charlottesville civil trial:
That’s the lesson of Charlottesville and Jan. 6. It’s all cosplay, bravado and make believe. Until it’s not.
A mature political party would sense the danger and dial down the rhetoric. A decent political party would expel the bigots and extremists. A responsible political party would purge advocates of violence.
Don’t expect that to happen anytime soon.
Related, via the NYT: “Charlottesville Extremists Lose in Court, but Replacement Theory Lives On.”
Four years after the event, the same ideas that made “Unite the Right” a lightning rod for hate groups are increasingly being echoed, albeit in modulated tones, by prominent figures in conservative media and politics. Chief among them is the great replacement theory, which holds that Democrats and others on the left are trying to supplant white Americans with immigrants and others for their own political gain.
This ideology’s shift from the margins toward the center was one of the leitmotifs of the nearly monthlong trial. Its spread suggests why it was crucial to have brought legal action against the defendants in the first place, according to those who helped to plan the case. “Precisely because their ideas have become more mainstream, it underscores why it is so important to hold these extremists accountable,” said Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First for America, a civil rights group that underwrote the suit.
Anti-anti-Trump journalists want to use the Steele controversy to score points off politicians and media institutions that they dislike. But as media malpractice goes, credulous reliance upon the Steele dossier is just a speck compared with—for example—the willingness of the top-rated shows on Fox News to promote the fantasy that the Democratic Party hacked itself, then murdered a staffer named Seth Rich to cover up the self-hack. (Some versions of this false claim include suggesting that Rich himself committed the crime.) Fox News ultimately settled with Rich’s family for an undisclosed sum even as the Fox host who had done most to promote the false story insisted on his radio show that he had retracted nothing. The story was crazy and cruel. But the story protected Trump, and that was proof enough for a media organization much more powerful than any of those that accepted the Steele dossier.
Meet the Texas Secessionist Movement: Brought to You by Russia
Secession is one of the Kremlin’s “active measures” campaigns: Promote fringe whackos abroad and hope that, eventually, they break something. This may not sound like much of a plan, but it sometimes works. Putin has been openly building his portfolio of whackos for a while. And the whackos have begun breaking things.
The shiny ball that caught Cruz’s attention was The Texas Nationalist Movement (TNM). TNM is Texas’s most prominent secessionist organization. In 2015, TNM attended a St. Petersburg gathering of worldwide extremists organized by Rodina—that’s “Motherland” in Russian—the fascist-adjacent offshoot of Putin’s United Russia party.
That gathering was a safe space where the likes of German Neo-Nazis, the KKK, Greece’s Golden Dawn, and Roberto Fiore (the Italian terrorist responsible for a 1980 bombing in Bologna that killed 85), could gather and praise Putin’s defense of Western (read: “white”) culture. Here, featured on Rodina’s website, is Nate Smith, TNM’s executive director, in attendance. Howdy! Russia’s info warriors were very pleased with his comments at the event. This skullduggery got so bad and Robert Mueller indicted 13 Russians who were working with the Texas secessionist movement in 2016 to—please put down your coffee—spread misinformation about Ted Cruz during the presidential primary in order to help Donald Trump.
There’s a nice symmetry there. Some day when when Hollywood comes calling the film can be titled, “From Victim to Dupe: The Ted Cruz Story.”