So what now? On Tuesday, Oct. 3, Kevin McCarthy was removed as Speaker of the House of Representatives in a 216-210 vote, with eight Republicans joining all Democrats in voting to vacate the office. He is the first Speaker to have been voted out of office during a legislative session. Now, the House must enter a new, likely protracted, voting process to determine who the replacement Speaker will be.
But the implications of this political coup, orchestrated by far-right Republicans such as Matt Gaetz, are further reaching than the replacement of one Speaker of the House for another. This event indicates that the Republican party has been hijacked by a new brand of populist, hardliner representatives who refuse to cooperate with Democrats or even the ‘moderates’ of their own party. Worse yet, this new faction shows utter disregard for the government’s basic duties, such as passing national budgets, as seen by many right-wingers’ opposition to the stopgap spending bill passed last week.
To begin with, McCarthy’s removal was a symbolic end to the “Young Guns” of the Republican party. Three young men (by political standards) — Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ryan and Eric Cantor — entered Congress at the turn of the century and introduced a new vision for the Republican party.
In their 2010 book Young Guns: A New Generation of Conservative Leaders, these three politicians put forth their vision for the Republican party: fiscal conservatism, limited government and a message of optimism. They seemed to be the future of the party until they weren’t. Cantor was the Republican majority leader; he lost his primary in 2014. Ryan became Speaker of the House in 2017; he retired from politics in 2019. And McCarthy was contentiously elected Speaker in January; he was just removed from office.
The failure of these Young Guns illustrates how the Republican party has been eclipsed by Donald Trump’s cult of personality and populist rhetoric. Trump’s 2016 candidacy pushed the Republican party further right and changed its messaging: Trump emphasized protectionism, opposition to immigration and unwillingness to cooperate with Democrats, who were seen as ‘the enemy.’
Now, Trump’s acolytes in Congress, many of them in the “Freedom Caucus,” are pushing his messaging even further. They are entirely unwilling to negotiate with Democrats, even if it means preventing a government shutdown or raising the debt ceiling. They even refused to agree to McCarthy’s debt ceiling and federal budget proposals, arguing that they didn’t go far enough in curtailing government spending. It seems that this faction of the party is more than willing to shut down the government and prevent them from completing their basic duties if only to boast to their constituents that they defended the ‘Republican cause.’
McCarthy is no moderate by any stretch of the imagination (for one, he voted against the certification of President Biden’s victory in multiple states). When all else failed, though, he was willing to cooperate with Democrats to prevent a government default and shutdown. Mind you, only after attempting to court the far-right of his party, but still.
Now, the party is at the mercy of the extreme eight Republican representatives who voted to remove McCarthy. The GOP’s majority in the House is only five seats, meaning they can afford almost no defectors. Prospective candidates such as Steve Scalise and Jim Jordan must court this far-right faction in order to ascend to the Speakership. Trump recently endorsed Jordan, likely elevating him above the competition. Even if he does become Speaker, Jordan will face the same issue as McCarthy: namely, how to govern the country as leader of a party that doesn’t want to govern.
McCarthy was only able to become Speaker after meeting the demands of the far-right of the Republican party but his willingness to allow the government to function was McCarthy’s ultimate undoing. He attempted to negotiate a spending bill within his own party, but they requested unobtainable concessions, which forced his hand into working with Democrats. As a side note, it is unfortunate that working with the opposition party is now seen as a last resort move. The bill they ended up passing, though, only funded the government for 45 days. This means that if Congress does not pass another bill by mid-November, the government will shut down.
Assuming the next Speaker election is as divisive as the last, once the House does elect a new Speaker, they will have limited time to scrape together a new bill to avoid such paralysis with national and international consequences. They will be stuck between a rock and a hard place: Try to work with the far-right to pass a bill that guts federal spending or negotiate with Democrats and likely lose their job like McCarthy. Long gone is the optimism of the Young Guns. Now, the new face of the Republican party is chaos and obstruction. Let’s hope it doesn’t last.
Nick Daum is a freshman from Bethesda, Md. majoring in Economics and Applied Math and Statistics.