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Editorial: McCarthy gives up amid GOP dysfunction

House Majority Leader of Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield walks out of a nomination vote meeting on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Oct. 8, after dropping out of the race to replace House Speaker John Boehner.
House Majority Leader of Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield walks out of a nomination vote meeting on Capitol Hill on Thursday, Oct. 8, after dropping out of the race to replace House Speaker John Boehner. The Associated Press

House Republicans looking to select a new speaker could have done much worse than Rep. Kevin McCarthy. They appear to be trying to do just that.

After all but ousting Speaker John Boehner, the Republicans who control Congress demonstrated breathtaking dysfunction in failing to unite behind Boehner’s second in command, House Majority Leader McCarthy.

His wife at his side, McCarthy, 50, appeared before the cameras, kept his smiling game face on and ended his candidacy for speaker Thursday. He said he didn’t want to lead a GOP conference that was less than united and that he hoped another leader would emerge soon. Who that might be is unclear.

He acknowledged that he didn’t help himself last week by saying the House GOP investigation into the killings of four Americans in Benghazi was intended to weaken former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy. He brushed aside a question related to any closeted skeletons.

More to the point, some hard-right Republicans saw McCarthy as less than pure. True, he did on occasion make deals with Democrats, as Californians saw when he was Republican leader in Sacramento. He would have found common ground in Washington, too.

The 435-seat House needs leaders who can count beyond 218 by occasionally striking bipartisan deals. It’s called leadership, not weakness. But almost immediately after the announcement, FreedomWorks, a conservative Beltway campaign apparatus, gloated in tweets and fundraising emails about McCarthy’s fall.

“We’ve got them by the scruff of the neck and we’re not letting go. But we can’t stop now,” the organization crowed in a fundraising email issued within an hour of the Bakersfield congressman’s announcement.

Exactly who “them” might be is also unclear. Republicans hold 246 House seats, largely because of Boehner and McCarthy’s electoral prowess. Hard-line conservatives can win certain gerrymandered seats. But they’re out of sync with vast swaths of voters.

Among California Republicans, only Rep. Tom McClintock of Elk Grove has a consistent 100 percent pure voting record in FreedomWorks’ view. But he quit the conservative group known as the House Freedom Caucus last month, saying its tactics have “repeatedly undermined” the House’s ability to advance conservative principles.

Instead, the biggest winners to emerge from the GOP rubble are likely to be House Democrats led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco. Whether one agrees with Democrats’ views or not, they can at least set aside differences and unite behind their leaders. And that’s fine. We all deserve better than politicians who can’t seem to do anything without an ugly fight.

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