Republican Rebels in Congress: Did They Miscalculate?


One of the interesting footnotes to the toppling of Speaker Kevin McCarthy is the role of chance and pique. There is some evidence that the rebels who succeeded in defenestrating McCarthy expected the Democrats to provide some votes to save his speakership, further adding to the Far Right’s case against McCarthy.

As Heather Cox Richardson writes in her influential blog, “Gaetz challenged McCarthy’s leadership, apparently with the expectation that the Democrats would step in to save McCarthy’s job, although it is traditionally the majority party that determines its leader. According to Paul Kane of the Washington Post, McCarthy did reach out to Democrats for votes to support his speakership. But Democrats pointed to McCarthy’s constant caving to the MAGA Republicans—as recently as Sunday, McCarthy blamed the threat of a shutdown on the Democrats—and were clear the problem was the Republicans’ alone.”

Some of the problem-solver moderate Democrats contemplated voting “present” to help McCarthy retain his speakership, fearing a worse Speaker as an outcome. But leader Hakeem Jeffries rallied the entire caucus by reminding them of McCarthy’s many perfidies.

The reliably clumsy McCarthy had slit his throat by going on the attack to Democrats, blaming them for holding up the vote on shutting down the government and presumably catering to his right flank in those Sunday TV show remarks. That damning clip was gleefully aired at the Democrats’ caucus, giving the Democrats the pique needed to deny McCarthy any Democratic votes. That unanimous vote by Democrats ties them to the resulting chaos, likely a worse Speaker, and to the partisanship-over-all mood of Congress.

All the Democrats in the House ended up toeing this line, casting unanimous votes to topple the Speaker. Even Derek Kilmer (D-Tacoma), ordinarily a voice for problem-solving bipartisanship, was quoted in the New York Times as saying “Speaker McCarthy has repeatedly chosen to weaken the institution by bending to extremists rather than collaborating across the aisle. He has inherited the chaos he has sown.”

One wonders if Rep. Kilmer was aware of the ironic kick of that remark.

David Brewster
David Brewster
David Brewster, a founding member of Post Alley, has a long career in publishing, having founded Seattle Weekly, Sasquatch Books, and His civic ventures have been Town Hall Seattle and FolioSeattle.


  1. So David, are you arguing that after McCarthy repeatedly publicly disparaged Dems, lied to them, shut them out, reneged on agreements he made with them, repeatedly capitulated to the far right fringe of his caucus, and then — when he needed them to save his speakership — refused to offer them any concessions whatsoever, they should have bailed him out anyway?

    So that he could then go back to publicly disparaging them, lying to them, shutting them out, reneging on any future agreements he made with them, and capitulating to the far right fringe of his caucus? Because that would have been a stupid, self-immolating move by Democrats.

    It seems to me that Derek Kilmer is right. McCarthy made his own bed. Even when McCarthy desperately needed Dems, he wouldn’t compromise with them. Actions have consequences, and bipartisanship is supposed to be a two way street.

  2. “Problem-solving bipartisanship”????? Oh my! What even remotely suggests to you that saving McCarthy, a wholly-owned creature of the right, who has the intellectual and ethical integrity of a wolf spider (my apologies to spiders everywhere) is “bi-partisan???”

    There are certainly other calculations that go into whether D’s should have saved McCarthy. Do they in a sense own him if they save him, even if he didn’t ask, knowing that losing their support could end him at any time? Is it better for them to prop him up or let him fall to put on full and continuing display the utter disfunction of what now passes for the Republican party? I’m fine with either.

    “Bipartisan” suggests there’s a good-faith middle that’s possible if two sides with good intentions deal honestly with one another. McCarthy is not capable of being one of them. Had he had even a glimmer of savvy, he could have taken a high road and left the nonsense behind. He did not. Not once. Not ever. And he showed repeatedly he couldn’t be trusted. After agreeing to spending levels with Biden earlier this year, he broke his word at the first opportunity.

    Good riddance. But your suggestion that D’s not helping him was merely pique by the D’s is stunningly naive and tone deaf.

  3. Good riddance indeed to a lying, power-hungry slimeball. As things stand the Dems may have an opportunity to be the power brokers choosing the next speaker. It’s not even entirely out of the question that it could be Jeffries. But whomever it turns out to be will need Democratic support unless somehow the Republicans can rally behind someone unanimously, which seems doubtful.

  4. Is there a chance that the fringe Republicans could actually restore a bipartisan environment in the House?

    Who’ll be the next speaker? Does the fringe have the ability to dictate their choice, or in the end must it go to someone who’s respected by both sides?

  5. Clarifying my original post. Mostly reporting the backstory for the toppling of McCarthy, not advocating support for him. I do wonder if there was any serious negotiating with McCarthy, untrustworthy as he is. And if there was any serious effort by the House Democrats to defuse the toxic polarization by opening peace talks. Perhaps there will be if the Speaker-search goes on.

    • If a few (moderate) Democrats had chosen to sit out the vote, they could have preserved the institution. Instead, they chose to burn it down.

      • Since when is the job of elected Democrats to save a bad-faith Republican liar from the lunatic fringe of his own party – a group he had pandered to shamelessly during his short-lived term?

        This is the political equivalent of blaming a woman who was sexually assaulted for dressing suggestively.

        Do better.

        • Sir Bubbleator:
          You will never see a sane/lucid response from your poster. Ever.

          “Do better” would be peachy if at all possible. Whining about burning down is a hoot in context of the ultra-kook Republicans executing the arson.

  6. Yes, they miscalculated–badly. Now we have the prospect of Jim Jordan dangled before us as a potential House speaker. It was never about whether or not Kevin McCarthy is a sleazeball. (An obvious yes. ) Democrats make a big mistake whenever they adopt Republican-like tactics. Sometimes, you must hold your nose and compromise. Our country deserves better than this kind of chaos. I’m embarrassed about all of this, and angry, too.

  7. Michael Bloomberg weighs in arguing that the Democrats should have probed for a solution that would have saved McCarthy.
    He writes: “The blame rests not just with the eight Republicans who voted to oust him, but also with both parties’ leaders — McCarthy and Democratic Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries — for failing to reach across the aisle to save the country from this mess.”

  8. To all…give it a rest. The Dems absolutely did the right thing. McCarthy is a proven nincompoop and untrustworthy on any level. Good riddance. Sure, Jordan is a dreadful prospect. But nothing the R’s are able to pass (doubtful there will be anything) will pass the Senate and Biden would veto. Sure, appropriations and shutdown are potential issues but there are workarounds. Eventually Jordan and all the others will follow McCarthy into the dustbin of history.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.