The abrupt and stunning withdrawal of Congressman Kevin McCarthy from the race to be the new Speaker of the House is a sign of just how different the House of Representatives has become in just a few short years.
Previous races for Speaker were about transactional politics. Successful candidates for Speaker were the ones who could offer plenty of campaign money, committee assignments that would help the Congressman or Congresswoman in the district, earmarks (or “pork”) that could help the member bring home something of value to the district and finally, an understanding of when and why to give a member a “break” on a tough vote.
Well, all that is gone. Outside groups spend more than political parties. In a world where there are only continuing resolutions and where appropriations bills don’t get passed anymore there are no “prize” committee assignments. And of course, there are no more earmarks. Finally, there aren’t many issues voted on at all – so there are fewer “tough” votes.
Thus, we are left with purely symbolic politics where what you say means a great deal. In fact, it means more than anything else. And this world was one for which Kevin McCarthy was poorly prepared. He paid dearly for making a statement indicating that the House strategy around the creation of the committee to investigate the attack in Benghazi was more about the politics of taking down Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy than it was about real issues. In fact, his statement could have been written by the Hillary campaign itself.
The Tea Party faction of the Republican Party has been the tail wagging the dog for much of this decade. The Republican Party has no option but to fight this one out on ideological grounds and then, perhaps, they can restore some of the tools needed to govern.