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McCarthy's Got Troubles

We are getting close to the time when Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) must somehow pay the piper. He secured his current post, and held onto it, with several displays of political jiu-jitsu that we didn't know he had in him. But by the end of the month, the government needs to be funded. If not, it will shut down and Republicans will likely get the blame. Given that McCarthy needs the votes of Freedom Caucusers who think that would be a fine and dandy outcome, if the Speaker is going to extract himself from the mess he's in, he's going to need to show some moves that would put Bruce Lee to shame.

Before we get to the actual news from yesterday, let's lay out the various things that McCarthy is dealing with as he plots his chess (checkers?) moves:

In short, it's a mess, and one in which McCarthy is clearly not willing to pursue the obvious solution, namely reaching across the aisle.

And that brings us to the actual news from yesterday. All the signs pointed in this direction, and now it's come to pass: The Speaker announced that he was initiating a formal impeachment inquiry targeting Biden. He wants the relevant committees to take a long look at Hunter Biden, the DoJ, the border and whatever else they can think of.

Let us now consider some of the problems with impeaching Biden:

Bringing it all together, here's what it boils down to: In an effort to placate the Freedom Caucus, and to get them to back a CR, McCarthy backed the impeachment inquiry the FCers so badly wanted. However, the inquiry isn't going to go anywhere, and certainly isn't going to lead the House to pass an impeachment resolution. Meanwhile, it's also not going to placate the FCers. They insist on getting 100% of what they want, and will not be happy with anything less. Indeed, just about an hour after McCarthy announced the impeachment inquiry, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) took to the floor to talk about how it might be time to talk about removing the Speaker from his post.

We haven't the faintest idea how this all ends. But the odds that McCarthy is still speaker by the time Christmas rolls around are, what, 50/50 at best?

Oh, and another little detail. If Gaetz brings up a motion to vacate the chair, all the Democrats and the FCers will vote for it. Presto! Empty chair. But the House needs a speaker. Remember last time the chair was technically vacant, say, Jan. 3, 2023? It took the better part of a week and 15 rounds of voting to fill it. Would it be easier this time around? Is there anybody that 218 Republicans could support for House speaker (other than maybe Donald Trump)? If it took a couple of weeks for the House Republicans to elect a compromise speaker with the help of Democratic votes (say, a moderate, noncontroversial Republican), then Democrats would campaign in 2024 on a platform of "The Republicans are crazy and can't govern. Vote a straight Democratic ticket to flush them all down the toilet." Yes, McCarthy made a deal in January, but he should have read Faust before doing so. It has some useful lessons. (Z)

Oh, Look, It's a Unicorn!

We dumped on The Washington Post yesterday, and now we're doing it again today. If you're reading, Mr. Bezos, you might want to skip this item.

Apropros to the previous item, reader D.C. in Portland, OR, brought to our attention the latest column from one of the Post's resident right wingers, namely Henry Olsen. Some of those resident right wingers, like Hugh Hewitt and Marc Thiessen, are just not worth reading because all they pump out is propaganda. Olsen sometimes comes up with something interesting, but... not this week. Like D.C., we are mystified that he thought he was saying something worthwhile in this piece.

Olsen begins with the observation that Kevin McCarthy has a real mess on his hands with this whole budget thing. OK, fair enough. And the proposed solution is that the Speaker should realize that not all Republicans want the same things, and that he should therefore try to find a middle ground between the various GOP factions that is agreeable to everyone. That is really Olsen's "sage" advice. See for yourself:

Fortunately, there is a better approach, but it requires accepting that the Republican Party, like the Democratic Party, is essentially a collection of ideologically diverse factions that would be different parties elsewhere. Engaging in the fiction that there is only one party encourages the type of regular blowups and breakdowns in governing that continue to make the United States look ungovernable to the rest of the world.

Instead, Republican leaders should broker a comprehensive governing agenda with all party factions, treating each as though they were separate parties. Regarding fiscal matters, this deal could take one of two approaches: The politically easier way would set tolerable spending levels that would likely be higher than the Freedom Caucus wants but also much lower than what Democrats desire. House Republicans would then present this as their best and final offer and dare Democrats and the Senate to fight them. This would tilt toward moderates on substance but toward conservatives in style.

The other approach would involve pushing fiscal limits similar to what the House GOP is trying to pass now, but with the tacit understanding that it wouldn't fly. The agreement would also establish a detailed approach to the subsequent negotiations with the White House and Senate, giving the Freedom Caucus substantial involvement—but not veto power—in discussions.

Olsen is living in fantasy land here. We suspect he wrote this op-ed after riding his unicorn-driven pumpkin carriage to a meeting with the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and perhaps inhaling a bit too much fairy dust.

We presume the two main problems here are obvious, but just in case, we'll lay them out. First, does Olsen really imagine that McCarthy and his various lieutenants have not already tried to find a middle ground satisfactory to all members of the House Republican Conference? The Speaker has never impressed us as a particularly skilled politician, but he's not a rank amateur, either. All he does, for most of his days in Washington, is try to find middle ground acceptable to his entire conference.

As to the second problem, we are reminded of a quote from Q. Not the conspiracy theorist, the near-omnipotent Star Trek character. When the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise encounters a scary new adversary called the Borg for the first time, Q advises: "The Borg are the ultimate user. They're unlike any threat your Federation has ever faced. They're not interested in political conquest, wealth, or power as you know it." The specifics don't quite line up when this observation is applied to the Freedom Caucus, but the general point does: They are playing a different game by different rules than everyone else, and to pretend otherwise is foolhardy. Negotiating with the FCers is pointless, because their philosophy is: "We get everything we want, or we take our ball and go home."

We've been sitting on the Olsen piece for several days now, trying to figure out how he could produce such drivel. We can only come up with two answers. The first possibility is that he has drunk so much of the Kool Aid, he honestly still sees the Freedom Caucusers as reasonable people who can be dealt with rationally. The second is that he doesn't actually believe that, and he's gaslighting the readers of the Post, in hopes that he can get the readers to believe. If readers have some better explanation, we'd be happy to hear it. (Z)

There Is No Republican Party

Now that you've had a dumb take from a conservative about the modern Republican Party, how about a more reasonable take from a conservative? There is little doubt that former federal judge J. Michael Luttig is staunchly conservative. There is also little doubt that he despises Donald Trump and Trumpism. Recently, Luttig sat for an interview and opined: "American democracy simply cannot function without two equally healthy and equally strong political parties. So today, in my view, there is no Republican Party to counter the Democratic Party in the country. And for that reason, American democracy is in grave peril."

Luttig's assessment is based on policy and principles. That is to say, he thinks (rightly) that a political party is supposed to be a vessel by which disparate interest groups are unified in support of a reasonably cohesive policy agenda. Since the modern Republican Party has virtually no substantive policy goals, it's not a party in the customary sense. Hence the conclusion that there is no Republican Party.

About a month ago, we wrote an item in which we said much the same thing as Luttig, observing that the Republican party has largely become a party without principles. In support of that, we listed the 25 most important Republicans in the country, in our view, along with notes about the undemocratic, unprincipled behavior from most of them. The only two principled folks to make our Top 25 were Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH). We welcomed comments from readers, and we thought we would take this opportunity to run down some of those.

To start with, numerous Republican (or formerly Republican) readers wrote in to agree with us (and Luttig):

It would seem we are on to something.

There were also numerous readers who wrote in to point out we did not define our parameters properly:

We should indeed have done a better job. We intended to include a paragraph in that piece in which we explained that because so much of modern Republican politicking is purely performative, we assigned high ranks to the most skilled performers.

There were also, of course, many suggestions for additions to the list:

We are irritated with ourselves that we forgot to add the Supreme Court justices to the list. We will point out, however, that Ken Starr and Lee Atwater are dead. If we're allowed to pick from the Ouija Board set, then surely St. Ronnie of Reagan is the first to make the cut.

And, finally, one last word:

Maybe next week, we'll do a list of the Top 25 Democrats. (Z)

Newsom Owns His COVID Mistakes...

This weekend, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) sat for an interview that we think was very interesting, given his obvious intent to run for president in 2028 (or 2024, if unusual things happen). It was with Meet the Press, and the primary subject was the Governor's management of the COVID pandemic.

In short, Newsom conceded that mistakes were made. But in contrast to the original utterer of that statement, namely Richard Nixon, the Governor really meant what he was saying and was willing to expand on the point. "I think we would've done everything differently," he remarked. "I think all of us in terms of our collective wisdom, we've evolved. We didn't know what we didn't know. We're experts in hindsight. We're all geniuses now." He also acknowledged that much of the criticism of his decision-making is on target and well deserved (though he largely avoided going into specifics as to things he could have done differently). If you want to watch for yourself, the full interview (approx. 40 minutes) is here.

We would suggest there are two basic interpretations of what is going on here. The less generous is that Newsom knows he's going to take incoming fire about his COVID management, once he's under the big microscope, and he's trying to get out ahead of it. The more generous is that Newsom's a reflective fellow who's willing to accept and acknowledge criticism. In truth, we think both are probably correct. But even if you assume the less charitable position, Newsom's words are still pretty unusual for a top-tier politician. Could you ever imagine, for example, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) ever admitting to the slightest mistake? Can you imagine him ever saying "Yeah, I could have done better..."?

Being willing to be a little vulnerable like this is definitely playing with fire. A politician who fumbles—say, John Kerry—looks weak and unpresidential. On the other hand, a politician who gets it just right—Barack Obama was pretty good here, as was John F. Kennedy—can certainly win over a fair number of hearts and minds. Newsom sure looks like someone who knows how to play his hand correctly here.

When Newsom won reelection in a walk, we cautioned against reading too much into that, since Californians tend to love incumbents, and since his opponent was so mediocre. But the Governor has shown an awful lot of political skill since then, and some very impressive political instincts. He and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) both look like they will be forces to reckon with in 2028. A Newsom/Whitmer ticket 2028 anyone? (Z)

...However, He Also Owns a $21,000 Bottle of Wine

And now the other side of the coin. Gavin Newsom has many things going for him when it comes to success in politics. We note his willingness to admit fault in the item above. He's also got Donald Trump's talent for attracting media attention. At the time of this writing (Wednesday, 2:00 a.m. PT), there are no less than seven Newsom stories on Politico's front page. In addition to the one linked above, they are:

Clearly, someone at that publication is a fan of the Governor.

In any event, it's the last story on the list we'd like to take note of. Newsom's single greatest liability, at least in terms of personality/biography, is that he comes off as a bit snobbish and elitist. He naturally gives off an imperious air, and he's lived a very upper crust life for the last 20 years. Recall, for example, that he got caught dining at the ultra-posh restaurant The French Laundry during the pandemic.

Anyhow, a $21,000 bottle of wine? There is just no way to make that palatable to voters. Newsom tried, once it came up in a conversation, explaining that he bought the bottle many years ago for one-tenth that price, as if a $2,100 bottle of wine is somehow plebeian. He also said he generally partakes of affordable vintages, like Robert Mondavi Coastal Chardonnay ($10 a bottle). Hmmmm... we can't seem to find that particular bottle on The French Laundry's wine menu.

The bottom line is that, sometime in the next year or two, the $21,000 bottle of wine has gotta go. Drink it, sell it, whatever, but don't give an opening for opponents to hand out "$20K wine" pins or to bestow the nickname "The $21,000 man." And in general, Newsom will need to work on being a more accessible "man of the people." We suspect he'll be better at that than Ron DeSantis is, though Newsom should start practicing his fried Twinkie eating right now. (Z)

He's Baaaaaaack

Mark Harris (R) twice ran to represent NC-09 in the House of Representatives, in 2016 and 2018. He lost the first time. The second time, it appeared that he had won, until widespread fraud was discovered, and the election result was tossed out. In the re-run, Harris was compelled to step aside, and the seat was won by Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC).

Thanks to redistricting, the seat is now NC-08. And because he wants to be state AG, Bishop has decided to step down. At the same time, there's been some indication—By George!—that being a total fraud is not disqualifying for a would-be GOP congressman. So, Harris has decided to reenter the arena, and to see if the third time is the charm.

Exactly where Harris will run is not clear. He plans to shoot for Bishop's seat, but since North Carolina's district map is likely to be redrawn, it's not certain what district will be open or what its demographics will be. As currently constituted, NC-09 is R+20, so if that was to hold (or come close to holding), then Harris would be a shoo-in if he got the nomination. Clearly he's got some political talent, though he would also face at least some opposition from an opponent saying "You don't have to worry about me snatching defeat from the jaws of victory thanks to being crooked."

If Harris does become the GOP candidate, presumably the national party won't be thrilled, and won't be supportive of his bid. The more sleazy officeholders the party has, the worse their public image is. Not that it's hurt them all that much, mind you. After all, look at the fellow who leads the party. (Z)

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