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McCarthy House speakers’ fight shows GOP leadership vacuum

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NEW YORK –

As House Republicans were torn by infighting, unable to coalesce around a speaker choice, former President Donald Trump had an emphatic message for the new GOP majority.

“Don’t turn a big triumph into a giant, embarrassing defeat,” Trump warned in all caps on his social media platform Wednesday morning, urging the 20 or so insurgents to “get the deal done” and back Kevin McCarthy.

It didn’t help. Only one voter moved: a former McCarthy supporter who opted to vote “present” instead.

The stalemate is more than embarrassing for McCarthy, who is now the first person in a century to muddle through multiple ballots – six so far – and looks no closer to landing the job than he did in the past. start of voting. The revolt is ringing alarm bells within the party as members warn they are sabotaging their new narrow majority and alienating voters as they struggle to fulfill their most basic duty: electing their own leader.

The episode also asks deeper questions about the party’s identity and future. It’s yet another reminder of Trump’s waning influence within the GOP — even among the most vocal supporters of his Make America Great Again political movement — as he once again seeks the party’s presidential nomination, exposing a leadership vacuum with no obvious alternative to unite the party and guide it through practical governance responsibilities and political challenges.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich warned that anti-McCarthy Republicans were “playing with fire”.

“This is the greatest danger we’ve had as a party since 1964,” Gingrich said in an interview, referring to the Republican National Convention that saw moderates face off against conservative insurgents. The Republican base, he said, “is watching the chaos in the House and they’re watching for the potential for a Never-Trump and Always-Trump collision that could be devastating.”

Party allies in the conservative media were also distressed.

“This is a disaster for Republicans,” Fox News host Steve Doocy said Wednesday on “Fox & Friends.” Sean Hannity said Tuesday night that House Republicans “are on the verge of becoming a total clown show if they’re not careful.”

McCarthy fell short of the required three-ballot majority on Tuesday as a group of 20 Republican rebels insisted on a more conservative alternative. On Wednesday, the anti-McCarthy group ticked all the way to 21 thanks to three more failed votes.

Until a speaker is chosen, elected representatives in the House cannot be sworn in, leaving the lower house of Congress in a state of suspended dysfunction.

The extraordinary infighting rippled through the Republican ecosystem at the start of the 2024 election cycle.

“What I’m hearing from rank-and-file Republicans, donors, candidates and even elected federal officials is that there’s a significant leadership vacuum on the Republican side,” said Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney. Californian who challenges the president of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, to lead the organizing committee of the party.

Dhillon declined to issue an endorsement on the president’s election, noting only that “there is a feeling the old guard doesn’t get it.”

The chaos stood in stark contrast to Democrats, who are largely united behind President Joe Biden heading into the new presidential election season.

As one of the failed Republican House votes unfolded on Wednesday, Biden appeared alongside Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell at a Kentucky event designed to highlight the bipartisan infrastructure package the Democratic president signed into law in 2021. Trump responded by lashing out at McConnell in a racist attack on McConnell’s wife, Trump’s former transportation secretary.

“This is who they are. Crisis, confusion, disarray. It’s unfortunate,” Pete Aguilar, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said at a press conference.

Much of the dysfunction plaguing the current GOP has to do with the party’s adherence to Trump’s cut-and-burn policy and the former president’s weakened political standing. McCarthy exemplifies this pattern, having traveled to Mar-a-Lago in early 2021 to visit Trump after the Jan. 6 uprising — a move that helped cement Trump’s political resuscitation and was widely seen as part of of an effort by McCarthy to bolster his speaker. bid.

But while Trump explicitly called on his supposed loyalists to back McCarthy on Wednesday morning, none of the 20 House Republicans who opposed McCarthy the day before — all from the party’s so-called MAGA wing — responded to the Trump call.

That’s even after Trump phoned Republican critics of McCarthy and asked them to ‘take it down,’ Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert told the House on Wednesday as she nominated Florida Republican Byron Donalds for president. .

In a moment of rare public defiance to Trump’s wishes, Boebert said Trump should instead “tell Kevin McCarthy, ‘Sir, you don’t have the votes and it’s time to step down.’”

As Trump struggled to wield influence, several potential rivals in the upcoming presidential primary offered their own brand of leadership from a distance.

New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, who just won a strong re-election in November, criticized the Republican-led House.

“Should we really be surprised that a bunch of morons in Congress are blocking things? Of course not,” Sununu said in a statement.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, who is expected to launch a bid for the White House after leaving office later this month, took the opportunity to highlight his own executive leadership.

“Republicans crave conservative meat and potato results from the new majority in Washington, like Republican governors already do, but all they get is a handful of mixed nuts” , Hogan said. “It’s time to get past this circus and show the country that we can govern with skill and common sense.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, another potential Republican nominee for 2024, suggested his party’s fight to elect a new president was a fairly typical challenge for the party not occupying the White House.

“We have to have this fight in public. We have to do it out loud. And then we have to resolve it,” Christie said in an interview. “That’s what happens when you’re an out-of-power party that doesn’t have a clear national leader.”

However quickly the speaker’s fight is decided, the broader GOP leadership vacuum will persist for the foreseeable future.

At the end of the month, the RNC must settle its battle for leadership as McDaniel fights for a fourth term. At stake is the future of the national GOP infrastructure and tens of millions of dollars in Republican resources.

In late spring, the fight for the Republican presidential nomination will begin in earnest, pitting ambitious candidates from all political backgrounds against Trump in a fight for party supremacy.

And by next fall, the delicate House GOP majority will be tasked with governing responsibilities involving the full faith and credit of the U.S. government, among other legislative responsibilities with significant real-world consequences.

Christie suggested that the new presidential primary season — which will run over the next year and a half — is designed to determine the next generation of Republican leaders.

“By the time we get to the convention in July 2024, I think that will be resolved,” Christie said.

But Gingrich, a longtime Trump ally, warned that the leadership struggle could have lasting ramifications, leading the base to question why they gave money to Senate and House candidates “to get this mess”.

“I think the guys in the House are doing substantial damage to the Republican Party and not even realizing it,” Gingrich said.

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