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Juan Williams: Kevin McCarthy would be a weak, disastrous Speaker

As House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) chases dreams of leading a GOP majority next year, he might consider this quote from a French Revolution leader: 

“There go the people. I must follow them, for I am their leader.”

In the language of today’s Twitter zingers, that’s saying a leader with no followers is just a guy taking a walk. 

McCarthy’s approach to possibly being the next Speaker looks unsteady, like a man who fears he is walking his party and his country off a cliff. 

McCarthy’s trouble begins with polling that favors a GOP House majority after the midterms but by a narrow margin – perhaps fewer than 10 seats.

That will make McCarthy less a leader than a puppet being controlled by the loudest Republicans on his far-right in the House and even louder voices ginning up outrage outside Washington on talk radio.

Already there are screams for McCarthy to drag the party into fiery hearings to impeach President Biden as retribution for House Democrats twice impeaching former President Trump. 

The reality that Trump committed acts worthy of impeachment — such as inciting a riot at the Capitol — while Biden has done no such thing is less important to a future GOP majority in the House than staging a payback circus.

Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) told NBC’s “Meet the Press” last month that there is pressure on House Republicans to immediately introduce articles of impeachment against Biden if they gain majority control.

McCarthy will also face calls from extreme voices to defund the FBI in retaliation for agents raiding Trump’s Florida mansion to recover classified government papers.

The biggest challenge for McCarthy will come from calls among his members for a government shutdown to protest a range of grievances. That includes Congress’s own failure, stemming largely from Republican opposition, to pass immigration reform for the last 30 years.

A preview of those tactics came last month.

“We should not fund a government that is continuing to allow open borders to endanger the American people,” Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) said on the House floor in September. 

Roy signed a letter with 41 other House Republicans stating they would oppose a stoppgap government funding bill. 

Admittedly, they argued that their objection was to a bill being passed “in the remaining months of this Democrat-led Congress” — and they were defeated, for now, when Congress passed just such a continuing resolution late last week.

But the point seems clear. Roy and his fellow right-wingers will be just as willing to wield the threat of a government shutdown over McCarthy, if they take the majority, as they are now with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) still holding the gavel.

According to Moody’s, the last government shutdown under GOP congressional leadership but a Democratic president, in 2013, took more than $20 billion out of the economy.

With fear of recession and inflation still hurting American families, a government shutdown would make economic matters even worse.

As the New York Times put it last month: “It could also mean that the government will struggle to perform such mundane tasks as keeping itself from defaulting on its debt and plunging the global financial system into chaos.”

McCarthy does have a successful model in managing a slim majority.

The current slim Democratic majority managed to pass a COVID-19 relief bill to keep the economy going during the latter stages of the pandemic; a spending plan to upgrade the nation’s infrastructure; and Biden’s bill to lower prescription drug prices and deal with climate change.

Key to Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) success was support from the left, despite progressives’ desire for more aggressive support of social safety net programs.

Can McCarthy emulate Pelosi? 

“I think it’ll be very difficult,” Jacob Rubashkin, an analyst with the nonpartisan publication Inside Elections, told The New York Times. “It’s been remarkable to see Nancy Pelosi handle a narrow majority. So, it is possible to pass bills with only a couple of votes to spare… [but] Kevin McCarthy is not Nancy Pelosi.”

Unease about the future of House GOP leadership could be why so many Republican donors are keeping their money on the sidelines this year. 

As Newsweek reported last week: “Democrats appear to be flush with cash with less than two months until crucial midterm elections while Republican candidates show signs of struggling to raise funds.”

Business leaders know that in the last 20 years, things rarely end well for the top person in House Republican leadership. 

Former Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), once the golden boy of the GOP, was thwarted by Trump.

Before him, former Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), a lifelong conservative, was hounded out of office by extreme Tea Party-inspired members for being too willing to make deals to keep the government working.

And long before him, former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), the architect of the 1994 Republican Revolution, barely survived a coup from his own members for mismanaging the impeachment of President Clinton.

All of this is to say that intramural squabbling resulting in failed leaders is nothing new for House Republican politics. 

But Kevin McCarthy’s ascent to leadership may mark a low point.

Never has a potential House majority GOP had its potential leader boxed in by having most of his members more loyal to an outsider, Trump.

Trump’s showmanship and social media edicts for attacking Democrats will led to endless congressional investigations. 

McCarthy had trouble with just this scenario when he was the frontrunner to succeed Boehner in 2015.

He was derailed because of a cringeworthy admission that the GOP’s breathless Benghazi investigation had nothing to do with protecting troops but was staged to drive down Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers. 

Does anyone really think McCarthy is up to the job?

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.

Tags 2022 midterm elections Biden Juan Williams Kevin McCarthy Nancy Pelosi Republican Party Trump

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