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October 3, 2023

A Bomb Thrower Targets His Own

Matt Gaetz is making his biggest play yet by trying to remove Kevin McCarthy from the speakership.

The Matt Gaetz moment is upon us, and unless you enjoy politics as absurdist theater, you might want to skip it.

The bomb-throwing Republican congressman from Florida, who has hitherto distinguished himself with sundry attention-getting antics, is making his biggest play yet by trying to remove Kevin McCarthy from the speakership by offering a so-called motion to vacate.

McCarthy’s alleged offense is relying on Democratic votes to pass a last-minute spending measure over the weekend to avert a government shutdown that would have been blamed on Republicans.

Would it have been better if McCarthy hadn’t had to do this, or hadn’t done it without first putting on the table a Republican version of a stop-gap bill? Sure. But Gaetz and some of his GOP confederates refused to get behind any remotely plausible Republican alternative.

So, Gaetz is the arsonist and the fireman, forcing McCarthy into the expedient for which he maintains McCarthy should be fired.

Joseph Heller would understand.

Since Gaetz’s motion to vacate requires a majority to succeed and presumably has the support of only a small fraction of Republicans, Gaetz himself has to look to Democrats to help him take the speaker’s gavel from McCarthy. Who’s the apostate now?

Giving Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries ultimate say over the composition of the Republican leadership of the House is a funny way to show ideological or partisan purity. Indeed, Gaetz reportedly made his initial outreach on behalf of his motion to the Congressional Progressive Cause — because, of course, the most left-wing members of the House are very discerning judges of the quality of Republican speakers.

In other words, Gaetz wants to use a majority of House Democrats to counteract the will of a majority of House Republicans on the question of McCarthy’s fate.

If this works, it should long be studied as one of the most witless acts of partisan self-sabotage in congressional history. Gaetz makes Marjorie Taylor Greene look like Joseph Cannon by comparison.

The escapade, with its echo of past House Republican internal contentions, requires an addition to the famous Karl Marx quote — history repeats itself first as tragedy, second as farce, finally as a ginned-up event for some extra notoriety.

The likes of Matt Gaetz believe that Republicans have a problem with the quality of their leadership when the quality of the followership is more the issue.

Republican backbenchers used to be people such as Jack Kemp and Paul Ryan, who became something by promoting ideas that they carefully developed, sincerely believed, and persuaded their colleagues to embrace. Now, the emphasis is on becoming a micro-celebrity via constant outrage.

There’s a reason that Gaetz conducts himself with the thoughtfulness of an anonymous Twitter account — because attention, especially on social media, is his ultimate metric of success.

Congress is merely a platform for the development and enhancement of a personal brand, not an institution to be honored and served. In this sense, Gaetz is a better dressed and much more right-wing version of John Fetterman.

None of this is to say that Speaker McCarthy is above reproach. Another flaw with the motion-to-vacate gambit, though, is that there’s no good alternative. Even Gaetz, the ringmaster of his own circus, isn’t touting anyone else — and for a reason. There’s no one who would obviously do a better job. There’s no one who represents a different philosophical disposition.

With a slender majority and Democrats in control of the Senate and the White House, House Republicans inevitably have limited leverage, and Speaker of the House is inherently a thankless job in these circumstances. It requires corralling a fractious caucus, some members of which will never be satisfied, at a time when there’s a premium on being bombastic and recalcitrant.

And then, there’s the fact that whoever is Speaker has to deal with Matt Gaetz. And who would want to do that?

© 2023 by King Features Syndicate

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