If you think the next two years will coalesce around consensus-driven agendas and moderate policies, you might need to think again.
What Did Not Happen
Violence and widespread intimidation, as warned, didn’t happen. The simmering left-wing base was enthused by wild talk of abortion and insurrection. What did happen, explains Victor Davis Hanson in American Greatness, is that the sludge oozed.
A Lot Stuck
Biden also goaded young people to vote by temporarily lowering gas prices through draining the strategic petroleum reserve, offering amnesty for marijuana offenses, and canceling half a trillion dollars of student loan debt. He told young women that they would die without unlimited abortions. And most of that mud stuck.
Are Voters Smarter than They Appear?
After Sen. Kevin McCarthy’s sacrifice with his Faustian bargain, mid-term voters seemed to want to tie the would-be Speaker to the whipping post. Elle Gyges writes in the Spectator:
By dethroning Speaker Pelosi but denying McCarthy a commanding majority, they’ve ensured that he must negotiate with the conservative-leaning House Freedom Caucus if he is to hold the gavel.
Trump’s Palace Guard
When today’s House Freedom Caucus was first organized, E. Gyges explains, the group concentrated around holding the line on federal spending. That wonky, unpopular stance is best understood as today’s “Trump Palace Guard.”
When Democrats opened the 2019 presidential impeachment, the Freedom Caucus carried the torch for Donald Trump. McCarthy allied with firebrand Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan to protect Trump.
McCarthy’s Faustian bargain enabled him to work in lockstep with the Freedom Caucus, whipping Republicans against impeachment, ensuring it would be a partisan vote.
The partnership kept intraparty fighting to a minimum while Republicans focused on the 2022 midterms and retaking the House.
When McCarthy unveiled his rather weak Commitment to America, freshman Freedom Caucus member Marjorie Taylor Greene joined McCarthy’s cast of extras, touring the country in support of the platform and praising McCarthy’s leadership.
Then, unwittingly, the red wave failed to materialize, diminishing McCarthy’s narrow path.
McCarthy has little room for Republicans to defect or he will again fail to garner 218 votes.
Even though a few races remain uncalled, it hasn’t stopped Freedom Caucus members from meeting this week to discuss the concessions they wish to extract from McCarthy in exchange for their backing.
Rumors have it that members want big changes to the rules package that will govern the House floor in the 118th Congress, including
- advance posting of bills to be voted on
- promises that amendments to bills will get votes
- a return (crucial) of the ability to vacate the chair
Will McCarthy agree to these demands? If he does, “the sword of Damocles will hang over his head for as long as he remains Speaker.” But if he doesn’t agree, will he ever hold the gravel again?
Freedom Caucus members are actively considering running a challenger, taking a leaf from their 2015 playbook. And while an HFC candidate has yet to emerge, the most obvious would be (Jim) Jordan, who has publicly backed McCarthy knowing that if he holds the Freedom Caucus together, Jordan will essentially be shadow speaker without the need for a contentious vote.
What’s McCarthy’s Path?
Wonder why KM would want the job? Should he become Speaker, most the bills he’d pass in a Republican House would die in a Dem-controlled Senate. And if that failed to happen, they’d be vetoed by Joe Biden.
Discretion the Better Part of Valor
It’s unlikely that the Freedom Caucus would agree to vote for measures that could garner support from across the aisle. Any ambitious legislative agenda McCarthy has will have to wait until he wins a larger majority, an opportunity that’s at least two years away. Under similar political circumstances, Speaker Boehner decided that discretion was the better part of valor.
Without a meaningful legislative agenda, expect Republicans to default: They will not be putting on political theater, adds E. Gyges. Look for Freedom Caucus to investigate the “political right’s favorite whipping boys” – Hunter Biden, tech CEOs, and the National Endowment of the Arts. None of this will sit well with anyone who clearly voted not to empower either party.
The narrow margins of the 2022 elections should lead lawmakers to pursue consensus-driven agendas and moderate policies — if only to build confidence among independents for the next election cycle.
Instead, House politics will remain entrenched along the partisan lines.
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