Kevin McCarthy and the House of Clowns

     House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks during a new conference on Capitol Hill Thursday, after bowing out of the race to be House Speaker. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

    House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) speaks during a new conference on Capitol Hill Thursday, after bowing out of the race to be House Speaker. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

    It’s well known that Kevin Spacey shadowed Kevin McCarthy before shooting House of Cards. But if you’re looking for cheap intrigue and craven dysfunction, skip Netflix and binge-watch the real thing, House of Clowns.

    What could be more entertaining – though dangerous for our democracy – than the latest Republican reality show? Our popcorn runneth over. After their boffo triumphs in the ’14 congressional elections, the Republicans were out to prove that they could actually govern. But it turns out (big surprise!) that they can’t even govern themselves. Leaderless and rudderless, hijacked in the House by a rump cadre of right-wing extremists, the GOPers couldn’t find their own butts if the route was charted on Google Maps. 

    Why did McCarthy, the alleged heir apparent, suddenly yank himself from the race to become Speaker? That’s an entire House of Clowns episode right there. Maybe it’s because he was too close to John Boehner, whose orange head is a wall trophy in the right-wing Freedom Caucus clubhouse. Maybe it’s because McCarthy, as a practitioner of the English language, sounds like a mashup of Sarah Palin and Jeb Bush. Maybe it’s because he clumsily outed the latest Benghazi committee as the partisan witchhunt it was always intended to be. Maybe it’s because conservative whisperers, led by one disruptive GOP donor, have been spreading sex rumors about McCarthy’s private life – and threatening to ratchet them up if he refused to step aside. That’s another entire episode right there.

    Then you have Boehner, who has been jonesing to escape the House sewer, only to realize that he’ll probably need to hold his nose and hang around a while longer – reminiscent of the scene in Godfather III when Michael Corleone growled, “Just when I thought I was out? They pull me back in.”

    Then you have Paul Ryan, who dearly wants to keep his Ways and Means chairmanship, who dearly wants to stay down in the weeds where he can plot new attacks on our popular safety-net programs… but he’s being lobbied hard to seek the Speakership as a savior who can supposedly unite the establishment and extremist factions. Which brings to mind the princess’ plaintive plea in Star Wars: “Help me, Obi Wan. You’re our only hope.”

    Then you have the most hilarious plot line of all (House of Clowns is actually a black comedy): Because Article I of the Constitution doesn’t require that the Speaker actually be a member of the chamber, there’s talk of drafting an outsider for the job.

    When I first heard that, I immediately joked that Newt Gingrich is tanned, rested, and ready. But it turns out that Newt Gingrich is tanned, rested, and ready. He said yesterday that “no citizen could ever turn down that kind of challenge.” He was seconded by court jester Sean Hannity, who fantasized that Newt could “come back with a flurry of ideas and a new contract that would advance a conservative agenda that would help the country solve these horrible problems.”

    Which is priceless, because Newt was basically run out of town in 1998; his conservative enemies didn’t think he was conservative enough, and everyone else thought he was a hypocrite for championing the Clinton impeachment crusade at a time when he was conducting his own extramarital affair. He was replaced as Speaker by Bob Livingston, who lasted around five minutes until he was outed for his several extramarital affairs. Livingston was replaced by Dennis Hastert, who’s probably unfit for ’15 savior duty because he’s under indictment in a hush-money case.

    Meanwhile, the right-wing Freedom Caucus, whose roughly 45 members serve scarlet-red districts that are distant from the American mainstream, have basically gained veto power over all semblance of sane House governance. These members reportedly spurned McCarthy because he refused to endorse their extremist demands – like crashing the government in December unless it defunds Planned Parenthood, like refusing to raise the debt ceiling….the usual sabotage wish list.

    How pathetic. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s conservative commentator Matt Lewis, with a new overview of his self-destructive party:

    “The GOP’s presidential primary race legitimately risks nominating Donald Trump and descending into parody. And now the Republican-controlled Congress is in total chaos. No one wants to be Speaker. All of this comes with a backdrop of a coming debt ceiling deadline in November that comes before a big budget vote in December. What a mess. Could Republicans have imagined a more nightmarish series of political events a year out from a presidential election? I doubt it.”

    But this is where House of Clowns gets serious: The gang that can’t govern isn’t going anywhere. The aforemented fiscal deadlines are fast approaching, at a time when the lunatics are wreaking havoc in the asylum.

    Indeed, whoever gets the gavel will likely face the same disruptions that bedeviled Boehner. The crash-and-burn caucus has achieved an institutional choke hold. As Hedrick Smith – a former New York Times Washington bureau chief, currently a public interest activist – accurately points out, “With protected political monopolies back home, the rebels take little or no political risk for opposing their speaker and adopting extremist positions that bring Congress to a halt….More than 85 percent of them come from a GOP-gerrymandered state, which emboldens them.”

    So who’s it gonna be? Jason Chaffetz, the Planned Parenthood hater from Utah, can’t muster enough votes. Daniel Webster, a minor Florida extremist, has roughly the same prospects as the dead Daniel Webster. The new rumored entrant is Darrell Issa, the car-alarm magnate and failed Benghazi witch hunter, whose main booster appears to be Darrell Issa. Heck, maybe Donald Trump could suggest somebody big beautiful terrific.

    For the sake of our nation and rational governance, this show does need to be canceled. But alas, much like House of Cards, it’s such a sordid guilty pleasure.

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    Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1, and on Facebook.

     

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