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Just over two months after he lost his Speakership in a shocking intraparty revolt, former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has announced his resignation from Congress, effective December 31, a year short of the end of his current elected term. He made this decision known at one of his party’s most prominent bulletin boards, the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal. His farewell missive did not so much as mention his defenestration by his colleagues; reading it, you’d think the man was on the brink of announcing a promotion to an exciting new gig. But in McCarthy’s chosen profession, there is but one higher position than the one he occupied for nine perilous months, and I’m pretty sure he’s not running for president.
No, the truth is that, like Newt Gingrich and John Boehner before him, having felt the heft and power of the Speaker’s gavel McCarthy could not tolerate being in the chamber in a subordinate position. He no longer had the keys to the executive washroom, and no one had to pretend they loved him. Perhaps for a few days after his defeat he imagined a fractious Republican Conference restoring his power, full of regret for allowing a little pissant like Matt Gaetz to trigger his fall. But as his colleagues turned here and there in search for a leader, they didn’t seriously consider turning back to the Californian.
Moreover, it’s the double standard adopted by his tormenters in the House Freedom Caucus once a new Speaker had been chosen that probably made life in the House truly unendurable for McCarthy. To avoid a government shutdown, Mike Johnson did exactly the same thing that cost his predecessor his position, relying on Democratic votes to pass a stopgap spending measure that did not include the deep spending cuts and wack-a-doodle policy riders MAGA conservatives demanded. What was the revolt against McCarthy really about? A lack of respect for the man who fought so long and hard to win the speakership, through machiavellian maneuvering and more candidate fundraisers than you could count, was the obvious answer.
In the wake of all this humiliation, McCarthy may have just decided his vastly diminished job wasn’t worth the pain of those long commutes from Bakersfield to Washington. D.C. But you have to figure the soon-to-be-former colleague who will take the greatest satisfaction at this development could be another former Speaker from California, Nancy Pelosi, who managed to weather revolts within her ranks again and again, and who left the leadership of her own House conference gracefully and on her own terms.
As for McCarthy, his future plans might involve a cushy job in the second administration of the man he tried to placate for so long, Donald Trump, assuming the 2024 outcome doesn’t take the 45th president off his feed and out of the spotlight. But it’s likely the very former House Speaker will give Capitol Hill a wide berth.