January 4, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Will the Democrats save the next GOP speaker from his party?

If not, how much suffering can they tolerate?


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Tuesday was a bad day for Kevin McCarthy. The California congressman wants to be the next House speaker, but lost the majority vote three times. As you know, no majority leader has failed so badly in 100 years.

McCarthy is wounded. Even after he wins the speakership, and he will, he won’t have real power. As the Post’s Greg Sargent intimated, the maga insurgents will. They don’t call themselves that, of course. They call themselves the Freedom Caucus. They don’t want freedom. They want anarchy and chaos. The word “governing” is meaningless.

Given that McCarthy won’t be truly in charge, the question, for the House Democrats, is what’s next. What should they do about the crazy caucus’s crazy-making? Should they do anything at all?

Given that Kevin McCarthy won’t be truly in charge, the question, for the House Democrats, is what’s next. What should they do about the crazy caucus’s crazy-making? Should they do anything at all?

According to Greg, the answer is apparently yes. His sources tell him that a potential plan is to “do all they can to minimize the damage.” (New this morning is Donald Trump’s endorsement of McCarthy.)

According to Democratic aides, this will turn partly on their ability to put effective political pressure on the 18 House Republicans who were elected in 2022 in districts carried by Joe Biden two years earlier. That pressure would ideally persuade some of those Republicans to break with their GOP colleagues and join with Democrats to block the worst MAGA designs.

That seems like the responsible thing to do. 

Is it?

Terrible choice
It’s here that I’m sympathetic. On the one hand, the Democrats do have a responsibility to protect and defend the people from the anarchy and chaos of the maga insurgents, who will do great harm, especially to the least among us, whom the Democrats serve.

On the other hand, protecting and defending the people means empowering the maga insurgents more, to give them carte blanche, in effect, by shielding them from the consequences of their actions. 

Do the Democrats save the people by joining some Republicans to stop the maga insurgents? Or do they give the Republicans enough rope to hang themselves with, thus risking harm to pretty much everyone? 

How much suffering can the Democrats tolerate?

That’s where I’m sympathetic. It’s a terrible choice. 

But in the end, the right one is clear. 

Just ask Ohio Congressman David Joyce, a Republican, who said that “McCarthy empowered the group of Republicans now standing in the way of him becoming speaker when McCarthy didn’t shut down Republicans who didn’t accept the results of the 2020 election.”

In effect, McCarthy gave them the hammer to pound him with. He’s complicit in his own humiliation. Will the Democrats add to the complicity? Will they encourage chaos by acting responsibly?

The answer is probably yes. 

Playing chicken
What will the consequences be?

We already know. 

Not long ago, the same “Freedom Caucus” risked America’s full faith and credit by threatening to vote down the debt ceiling (which caps how much the government can borrow). To prevent a worldwide meltdown, then-Speaker John Boehner turned to Nancy Pelosi and her caucus. The Democrats saved him and the global economy.

How were they repaid?

With more pandering to the radicals, thus creating conditions for a lying, thieving, philandering sadist to become the next president.

This time, the Democrats would be repaid with “investigations” into “election fraud” or likely worse, such as the impeachment of Joe Biden for – it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the Republicans will find a reasonsreasonsreasons to justify getting revenge for their crime boss.

Pelosi was never going to play chicken with the crazy-makers. But that was before Donald Trump’s attempted paramilitary takeover of the US government, and before the midterms exposed the GOP’s weakness. Maybe this time Pelosi would play chicken, but she’s not in charge anymore. New York Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is.

“Hakeem’s instincts are more progressive than some folks recognize,” Adam Green, activist and cofounder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, told The Hill last year, after Jeffries was elected as the next House leader. “I expect that to become apparent as the fight is on with Republicans on everything from protecting Social Security benefits to reinstating the expanded Child Tax Credit to fighting rightwing efforts to clawback bold climate policy.”

With a new leader may come a new game of chicken. 

Tolerance for suffering
Don’t get me wrong.

I don’t blame the Democrats for wanting to do the right thing. But if a consequence of doing the right thing is greater crazy-making from the crazy caucus, they wouldn’t be necessarily blameless either.

And who are they protecting anyway?

Their constituents, obviously. But we must keep in mind that the maga insurgents were elected. Americans sent them to Washington. If they want anarchy and chaos so badly, maybe they should get it.

Again, it’s a terrible choice. But politics is often about terrible choices. How much suffering can the Democrats tolerate?

We’re going to find out.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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