House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has, like Donald Trump, made a bed that he now has to lie in. In McCarthy's case, he's been far too willing to make Trump and the MAGA members of Congress a part of his power base. That kind of Faustian bargain has had at least three obvious consequences. First, he's constantly beholden to people who are not interested in actually governing. Second, any attempt to govern in the next two years (i.e., work with a Democratic president) will be regarded as treasonous. Third, taking note of how slim the Republicans' majority will likely be, if they obtain one, the right-wingers are already talking about tossing him overboard and trying to put someone more agreeable in the Speaker's chair.
McCarthy has never struck us as someone with imagination or with courage. But he's at a crossroads here. The easier path—again, assuming Republicans regain control of the House—would be to try to assuage the MAGA crowd, granting them whatever boons they demand in exchange for supporting him as Speaker. This is the path we assume he will choose, given the type of person he is, and given that the brass ring is so, so close. But this path also means unending headaches, and the possibility of a very short Speakership. Maybe not Liz Truss-short, but there are reasons that John Boehner gave up the job mid-term, and that Paul Ryan couldn't wait to retire once he had it. And even if McCarthy holds on for 2 years, the Democrats are likely to regain the House in 2024, with that being a presidential year.
And then there is the bold option. McCarthy could announce that it's time to move on from Trump, and to get serious about governance again. Instead of working with the MAGA crowd, he could work with the Blue Dog Democrats. If the alternative is being shut out of power entirely, the Blue Dogs might well be willing to support McCarthy for Speaker in exchange for concessions in terms of his being willing to bring up and support some of their legislative priorities. This is something that Joe Biden, who remains a bipartisanship fetishist, would certainly support.
This would be very high risk for McCarthy; he could find himself an outcast, like Reps. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL). On the other hand, he would be turning apostate after the disaster Trump had on Tuesday, and not before. And it's possible that many of his colleagues are just waiting now for someone to say the emperor has no clothes. If McCarthy manages to inaugurate a new era for House Republicans, he'll become someone of national prominence, and a possible presidential candidate. Further, if things actually get done, then voters might decide that throwing the bums out is not called for, and that mixed government seems to be working. So, this is also probably McCarthy's best shot at staying Speaker for more than one term.
Again, by all indications, McCarthy doesn't have this kind of courage. But the option's there, if he decides to go big. (Z)