Kevin McCarthy isn't House speaker material

Kevin McCarthy.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

It's hazardous to make political predictions, but here's one anyway: House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) might very well lead the House GOP to a majority in next year's elections — but I'm skeptical he'll end up as speaker of the House.

McCarthy just isn't doing a very good job of riding the tiger that is the House Republican Conference. In recent weeks, members like Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), and now Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) have generated a steady stream of provocations that make the caucus look like a collection of rogue, bigoted cranks. That's led to some notable in-fighting: This week Greene and fellow Republican Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.) feuded openly on Twitter — with Mace using a poop emoji to insult Greene. American politics in 2021 resembles a third-grade playground fight, and McCarthy is the beleaguered teacher who can't quite rein in the kids. That doesn't exactly scream "leadership."

Neither does McCarthy's obvious tendency to chase the political winds. After the Jan. 6 insurrection, he called for the censure of Donald Trump — and then, a few weeks later, flew down to Mar-a-Lago to show his fealty to the former president. (Trump reportedly still hasn't forgiven him for the momentary disloyalty.) McCarthy defended the party leadership status of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who voted for Trump's impeachment, until he didn't.

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All of this makes McCarthy look unreliable, even to his fellow Republicans. There has been speculation that if the GOP wins the House next year, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) might ascend to the top spot, though Jordan denies interest. And Trump's name has even popped up as a possibility — there's no requirement that the Speaker be an elected member of the House — but it's extremely unlikely he'd want the direct day-to-day headaches of managing legislation that the job requires.

McCarthy's problem at the moment, though, is that he can't get a lid on the House GOP's various controversies at a time when the Democratic Party is in disarray — unable to seal the deal on the Build Back Better bill, haunted by losses and near-losses in recent gubernatorial races, beset by a wave of retirements and generally preparing for disaster in 2022. But Republicans keep drawing the public's attention back to their own foibles. That's not great for their leader.

It may be that no one can manage House Republicans: The last two GOP speakers retired to private life rather than deal with the hassle. McCarthy has a year left to prove he is more capable than his predecessors. Right now, he's falling short.

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