POLITICO Mag: Everyone Played Their Part

I wrote a short piece for a POLITICO Magazine series on the sacking of Kevin McCarthy and what it says about our politics.

No one should shed any tears for Kevin McCarthy. He got the job he sought his entire career, performed as well as anyone could have reasonably anticipated, and kept the balls in the air longer than he probably had any business doing. Caught between unstoppable force and immovable object, in the end, McCarthy chose to accept his fate rather than contrive some untenable transactional truce. Whatever his future in Congress holds, he’ll have a long second act as a Republican wise man, and his ouster will be mythologized into partisan martyrdom.

Nor can you blame House Democrats for declining to fend off — whether by action or inaction — a beast of the right’s own creation. In the end, they chose to serve as Matt Gaetz’s executioner because they could; because their deepening mistrust of the speaker eclipsed any perceived value in his ongoing survival; and because affording any measure of grace — even out of partisan self-interest — would have been met with fury by a base whose contempt for McCarthy matched the caucus’ own.

Even Gaetz, the jester of the GOP, achieved his vainglorious end, setting into motion a political trolley problem that accomplished what he couldn’t or wouldn’t by himself, and, perhaps most importantly, casting himself as the star of the show.

Ultimately the tragedy of this week — and for the immediate future of congressional politics, it is a tragedy — is that everyone involved acted rationally, almost clinically so, according to their respective incentives. The calculus that prompted McCarthy to cheat his own destiny as long as he did was vacated along with his office, and the circumstances surrounding his defenestration have already eroded what few bipartisan courtesies had survived to date. So long as the nihilist’s veto exists — newly operationalized, and suddenly with precedent — even the baseline functions of government will be in question.

Changing the rules of the House is a start. But so long as voters continue to channel their frustrations with Washington by sending people committed to burning it down, the cycle of dysfunction will continue.

Read the entire forum here.

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