Kyle Wingfield

Political commentary and opinion from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's conservative blogger

Why the news about Kevin McCarthy is not good for the GOP

The shocking moment of the day (so far), via the Associated Press :

"WASHINGTON — In a stunning move, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy withdrew his candidacy for House speaker Thursday, throwing Congress' Republican leadership into chaos.

"McCarthy was heavily favored to win his GOP colleagues' endorsement for the post, but a vigorous challenge from hardline House conservatives threatened a smooth ratification when the full House voted Oct. 29. It is uncertain now when that vote will occur to replace Speaker John Boehner, who is to retire at the end of the month.

"McCarthy shocked his colleagues at the start of Thursday's closed meeting, telling them he was not the right person for the job. He recommended that the election be postponed and Boehner delayed it."

Going back to what I wrote when Boehner suddenly announced his resignation , it's clear that fight time on Capitol Hill has only begun. The answers to these questions about a faction of dissenters within the GOP ranks are also coming into focus:

"Now we will see just how influential some of these voices, in and out of Congress, really are. If the next speaker doesn't govern much differently, will they decide maybe they were wrong to heap so much blame on Boehner personally? Will they try to replace the replacement? Could they end up realizing their problem is they don't have the votes to back up their rhetoric?"

So far, the answers are no, yes, and no. McCarthy made his own missteps along the way -- most notably, his attempt to politicize a House investigation into Benghazi that is serious enough as to have helped prompt an FBI investigation of the handling of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's emails. But his inability to win over some 30-odd members of the Freedom Caucus seems to have sealed his fate. A candidate needs 218 votes to win an election for speaker and the GOP has 247 representatives, so if that group's members stick together they can keep someone from being elected, even if they can't get someone elected.

Note the use of the vague word "candidate" in that previous sentence. The Constitution does not restrict the speakership to members of the House, although all speakers to date have been elected congressmen, and there is some speculation that this moment could prompt a new precedent. I still doubt that. (But wouldn't it be the ultimate trolling of Harry Reid and others obsessed with them for one of the Koch brothers to get the job?)

Back to being serious. Intra-party disagreement and even conflict over policy can be, as I mentioned briefly yesterday, a good thing. But this is getting a little ridiculous. When one in eight members of the House GOP caucus can't a) get on board with a candidate who otherwise has the party's backing, or b) isn't taken seriously enough by the other seven-in-eight to negotiate some concessions in exchange for getting on board, or c) is insisting on too many concessions in order to get on board -- well, you have to start asking questions like this one:

One thing is for sure: While it's still early, this is the kind of inanity that could cost Republicans the White House and perhaps even an otherwise near-bulletproof House majority in next year's elections. When there is speculation the next speaker will have to be elected with both Republican and Democratic votes, it's time to ask whether the purity brigade is bringing results that are more conservative, or less.

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About the Author

Kyle Wingfield joined the AJC in 2009. He is a native of Dalton and a graduate of the University of Georgia.