The only thing that will keep Kevin McCarthy from becoming the next Speaker of the House is if he doesn’t want the job. For the sake of the Republican Party, let’s hope he does. I’ve known Kevin McCarthy since he first ran for State Assembly in California and have followed his meteoric rise through the Republican ranks. Many climb that ladder by schmoozing and shameless self-promotion. McCarthy has done it by helping his colleagues, literally, one by one.
Most congressmen hate to walk across the street to the National Republican Congressional Committee offices to make fundraising calls for their re-election. It is virtually unheard of for a member to cross that street to help a colleague on the phones, and yet, I have personally witnessed Kevin McCarthy do that on more than one occasion. He became the Republican Leader in the California Assembly by helping new members work their districts and make fundraising calls. He took that same perspective and work ethic with him to Washington.
The result in California was that all those new members he helped were anxious to make him leader because he was the one person who had taken the time and energy to help. A lot of incoming congressmen have had that same experience, and given the opportunity, will select him as their next leader. If Kevin McCarthy accepts that role, the “Freedom Caucus” will come in from the cold and consequently, both the national conversation and the policy trajectory in Congress will change. The GOP desperately needs for both of those things to happen, and soon.
Most ideological conservatives are used to fighting cultural rear guard actions, or engaging in ad hoc battles entered into with little thought as to their winnability. We are dispositionally unsuited to majority status, as evidenced by the apparent need of conservatives to establish a “Freedom Caucus” within the Republican majority caucus in the first place. Instead of letting the Republican majority be the Freedom Caucus, the outliers effectively precluded that from happening.
While it’s true that they didn’t trust John Boehner because of disagreements over how and in what order to promote the Republican agenda, they also didn’t trust Boehner because he was their leader. For a lot of Republican conservatives, steeped in the traditions and rhetoric of opposition, the notion of someone being both conservative and in charge was simply tough to accept. They solved the dilemma by dividing the Republican caucus into purer and less pure factions, effectively robbing it of its majority status. (California Congressman Tom McClintock said as much this week when he withdrew his membership from the Freedom Caucus.)
So how does a McCarthy speakership change that dynamic? It’s actually easier than it appears, because Kevin McCarthy has spent years in the trenches building credibility, and genuine friendships. If you had an “R’” after your name, he went to bat for you, and in a self-serving town like Washington, that kind of yeoman’s service will go a long way in convincing the rebels in the hills to come back down to the camp. His colleagues also know that, quite distinct from the caricature the media would like to portray, Kevin McCarthy cares about policy — a lot. He simply knows that policy is merely a parlor game if you’re not in a position to implement it. If things go right, he may soon be in exactly that position.
Most importantly. the GOP needs the Congressional Republicans to take control of the party’s message, because we are being ill-served by the parochial, and occasionally mean-spirited rhetoric of the presidential campaigns.
And yes, the respective goals of the party and the presidential campaigns are not the same. The pretenders to the White House are looking for a job. The Congressional Republicans already have one. Speaker Boehner’s resignation is a rare opportunity for a re-set. Carpe diem.