Dog Wagged By Tail

When the predicted big red wave washed harmlessly ashore in November I was delighted. Now I’m not so sure.

Democrats, including this one, took no small amount of pleasure in watching Kevin McCarthy twist slowly in the wind for a couple of days, tormented by the very hard-right populist forces he helped unleash. But the sober reality is that this was made possible by that same slim majority that I celebrated for it’s very slimness a couple of months ago.

Had the red wave actually happened the small faction of Republican hard liners that have (and will) make McCarthy’s life hell could have been shunted aside. Now they run the government. Well, not exactly. They can’t actually run anything, but they can shut down plenty. And it’s shutting stuff down, it’s blowing stuff up that these folks think they got elected to do. They’re the monkey wrench gang.

It’s a quirk in our system that an election that can only be read as a repudiation of the hard-right has ended up empowering the hard-right.

I would imagine that for awhile this will continue to look good for Democrats. The ironically named Freedom Caucus will likely push for all manner of crazy votes. For example, what if they want a vote on a national abortion ban? How will moderate Republicans from swing districts feel about taking that vote, especially in light of the fact that even if it passed the House it would be DOA in the Senate? And for that matter how would even pro-life Republicans feel about reminding voters how out of touch they are in a country where two-out-of-three voters supported the rights that had been assured in Roe? Or what if they try to muck up future support for Ukraine or cut Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid? And what happens when committee assignments come out and the dissidents get the plumb seats while loyal McCarthy supporters get the shaft? The list of potential Republican train wrecks goes on. Schadenfreude on steroids.

Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz could be calling the shots in late summer.

But here’s the problem. Come late summer Congress will probably need to lift the debt ceiling. And here’s where the unhinged caucus really gets their leverage. The ceiling could be easily raised if all the Democrats and a handful of Republicans vote for it. But McCarthy has put himself in a position where the hard-liners could force another vote on his speakership if he does anything they don’t like — and taking away their big point of leverage is something they’re apt not to like.

That’s months off and a lot can happen between now and then, but right now it’s hard to imagine this ending without a lengthy and messy government shut down. Maybe that too will be for the best. Maybe, with a shut down and the delayed Social Security payments and military payrolls that would result, this would deal the death blow to the hard-right.

But brinksmanship is no way to run a country. Maybe a little bit more water behind the red wave — enough to disempower the hard-right in the House while keeping the Senate blue — would have been a good thing.

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

3 thoughts on “Dog Wagged By Tail

  1. As a retiree on Social Security and Medicare, I certainly hope Joe Biden and the Dems and rational Republicans in the Senate and House stand firm on this one. I agree with you that this is the most troubling thing about McCarthy handing the keys to the asylum to the inmates. His statement late Friday about this absurd process showing that the GOP has learned how to govern was beyond laughable. I only hope that the various administration officials that will be “investigated” show the same respect for congressional subpoenas as did the members of the last administration!

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  2. I don’t know, Dave. I don’t think that there is a pain-free way to deal with the nutcases within the Republican Party. A bigger “Red Wave” would not necessarily have been better. We all watched while Kevin McCarthy turned himself into a sock puppet for the Demolition Caucus. In his desperation to become Speaker of the House, he ceded all power to them. The remaining 200+ Republicans who voted for him can’t be too happy about that, and I’m sure he’s already gotten an earful from them. Their voices will only become louder over the passage of time.

    Given the straightjacket that McCarthy now wears, he has precisely zero degrees of freedom. The moment he tries to do anything that even hints at bipartisanship, his minders will fire him. But then what? After a no-confidence vote, who will the Republicans pick as Speaker? They certainly won’t compound their mistake by voting for one of the crazies. As paradoxical as it may seem, the only path back to power for the Republicans who voted for McCarthy in the first place is to cut a deal with the Democrats, and I think that’s exactly what will eventually happen.

    Those Republicans who are NOT members of the “Freedom” Caucus can be counted upon to act in their self-interest, especially with the 2024 elections on tap. Following the members of the Freedom Caucus over a cliff is not on their To Do list.

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    1. I hope you’re right, Richard. But I just can’t imagine a scenario where the Republicans cut a deal with the Democrats. Maybe if the debt ceiling issue and resulting government shutdown goes on long enough they might, but even that seems like a stretch.

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