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Speaker-Box and the Suck Below
Kevin McCarthy is out as Speaker.
Happy Friday everyone. I hope most of you have a three-day weekend (The Jackal does). Off the bat, I have to say two things:
First, this Jackal was supposed to be a conversation about the economy. The idea was that we had a bunch of economic news come in a few weeks ago and we got the jobs report today (330K new jobs created in September), so there would be lots to talk about. But the third quarter Gross Domestic Product report comes out at the end of October, which is a big deal, so we will postpone that Jackal.
Second, the Speaker stuff is too good the pass up. Like my friend Geoffrey the Squirrel likes to say: Let’s get nuts.
R.I.P Speaker Kevin McCarthy, 2023-2023.
In case you missed it, Kevin McCarthy is gone. When the absolute nuttiness of the Speaker vote happened earlier this year, the general consensus was that McCarthy’s victory was pyrrhic, to the extent you even wanted to take it that far.
McCarthy sacrificed a lot to win over the votes of the members who refused to back him, and even after everything he gave up, six members of the House still stayed put:
Matt Gaetz of Florida
Andy Biggs of Arizona
Lauren Boebert of Colorado (sorry)
Eli Crane of Arizona
Bob Good of Virginia
Matt Rosendale of Montana
Gaetz, Biggs, Crane, Good, and Rosendale are all repeat offenders and voted McCarthy out again (Boebert swapped her place with another Colorado native, Ken Buck, and Tim Burchett from Tennessee joined the party too). But to highlight why McCarthy lost his spot, I want to talk about Nancy Mace.
Mace is a Republican congresswoman from South Carolina who came into office in January 2021. When she first showed up, she popped up on the radar of a lot of Never Trump Republicans™ because she openly criticized Trump. Mace seemed poised to become a rising star in a new, post-Trump GOP in the immediate aftermath of January 6th.
But then things changed. People sort of forget this, but a lot of Republican voters were telling pollsters that they were OK with the Party moving on from Trump. There were polls readily showing primary voters describing themselves as Republicans first, Trump supporters second. I even wrote about this in February 2022, and it is a hilarious piece to look back on if only to see how wrong I got it (and also the Midterms). But there were a few moments back then where it seemed like maybe the GOP could re-form itself into a post-Trump party.
But eventually political gravity happened, and GOP voters fell back in love with Trump. Mace herself ended up filming an ad in front of Trump Tower, to prove how much she was still a Trumpaloo. Mace won re-election in 2022, but her district is relatively swingy, so she had to make sure she had the support of Trump’s MAGA base. After Matt Gaetz launched his first bid to keep McCarthy from becoming Speaker, Mace sided with McCarthy and called Matt Gaetz a fraud (this is a link to a video on Twitter, which I used to be able to embed right here so you could watch, but still can’t because Elon is bad).
After Gaetz and Mace cast their votes against McCarthy, she ended up on a TV show with Gaetz, the same guy she called a fraud around 9 months ago. What happened?
The GOP’s incentive structure is warped and bad.
The reason Mace is pulling her move (to the best that I can ascertain) is because she is worried about a potentially close election in 2024 keeping her out of office. Few people are paying attention to this, but in special elections this year, Democrats have been performing remarkably well. Like, historically well. Normally, you would say that means 2024 would be an easy win for them, but that’s not really the case.
What’s happening is that Democratic turnout is higher in places with more abortion restrictions on the line. This applies to South Carolina. Mace knows that her reelection battle could be tough in a way that an election for Boebert in Colorado might actually be easier (although she may be gone too next year) due to Colorado’s abortion laws. So, Mace is trying to build a war chest for a big reelection battle, and her vote to take McCarthy out probably accomplishes two things at once: She gets to fundraise from major pro-Trump people, and also neuters a potential primary challenge that would also cost her money.
Moreover, even if Mace loses, she loses nothing by going out for being too Trumpy. The pro-Trump media circuit is an incredibly lucrative place to make a living, and it can often see you segue that fame into an even more lucrative TV job (see: Kayleigh McEnany on Fox News). What Mace knows is that you cannot go the Jenna Ellis route, which is be super pro-Trumpy and then try to re-launch your brand by backing someone like Ron DeSantis. You have to be all in for Trump or no one else. Anyone who wavers ends up getting cooked.
It is a perverse incentive structure, but it works because conservative media is insulated from reality. I had a discussion with a big pro-Trump person recently, who argued repeatedly that the lawsuits against Trump are all “witch hunts” designed to keep him out of office. Obviously, I said that’s not true, and most of them (even Alvin Bragg’s case in New York) are brought against people who commit even lesser offenses. To put it simply, I said Trump is being treated as a crook because he is a crook.
The counter to that was that Republicans do not trust the FBI or the Justice Department anymore, because they have proven themselves to be biased against conservatives. Two examples that were cited were the IRS’s targeting of conservative groups and the Durham Report, which (apparently) found that the FBI targeted Trump’s Campaign. Here is what I said:
This kind of speaks to my point: The IRS did not target conservative groups. After the scandal broke, the inspector general did a long investigation into the IRS's targeting scheme and found that they didn't single out conservative groups and, in fact, investigated left-wing groups too. https://www.chicagotribune.com/.../ct-irs-target-liberal...
Similarly, Durham investigated for years and ultimately concluded that the FBI investigation into Trump's Campaign was warranted, and that it wasn't politically motivated (and failed to secure convictions for the people he indicted along the way).
The Durham report is probably the clearest example of what I'm talking about: Trump made an alternative fantasy world to counter reality, and when Durham had to submit his report, there was nothing he could actually do to alter that reality. It was ultimately a huge waste of money that did nothing to counter what the GOP Senate and Mueller found, which was that Trump and his Campaign were engaged in a conspiracy to subvert the 2016 election.
Maybe it's not a big deal to Trump supporters, or maybe they think the ways the media ran wild with that theory (the pee tape) were irresponsible. That's fine! But it's still reality. The same thing applies to the lawsuits he is currently facing. Letitia James isn't making up that Trump said his 11,000 sq ft apartment was really 33,000 sq ft and worth 2,000% more than it really was; it's literally in his financial statements.
Everyone from Mace to McCarthy to Steve Scalise to Steve Bannon know that this is the environment they are operating in, and it allows basically any counter-narrative to form itself. While trying to overturn the election results in 2020, Trump uttered a pretty amazing line to a lawyer in the Justice Department: “Just say the election was rigged and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.”
He doesn’t actually need the truth; he just needs a counter-narrative. The GOP learned the worst lessons from Trump, and are now practicing it as a Party.
So, who is going to be Speaker?
When I made my prediction in January 2022, I said it would be:
Marjorie Tayleor Greene
McCarthy proved me wrong, but only for a little while. It now looks like Jordan is the favorite, given his endorsement from Trump. I think with that, you have to assume that Jordan will get the gavel, but there is a chance the more moderate House Republicans refuse to vote for Jordan.
Jordan is a nutcase. He is currently co-leading a very poorly received impeachment inquiry into Joe Biden. He is extremely far to the right, even further than the median House Republican. He assisted Trump with his attempts to overturn the election. So, not the best face for a Party that wants to win in 2024.
On top of that, if Trump is the nominee that means the two faces of the Republican Party - in Congress and in the Executive - will be a guy who can legally be called a rapist and a guy who apparently turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse on Ohio State’s wrestling team. Not a great look for a Party that wants to win suburban women.
After leaving the White House, Trump apparently discussed nuclear submarine secrets with a foreign national. Just mind-blowing.
This piece is so important and maybe one I will return to at some point, but it is about how GOP policies are harming actual GOP voters. Horrible to read.
Relatedly, Politico says the GOP is broken.
Everyone enjoy their three-day weekend. I come back next week, and as a reminder, we have a special guest on October 27th (or maybe November 3rd, depending on their schedule).