Republican House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has now officially announced his intention to run for Speaker of the House. While there may be a challenge from within, he is, by all odds, likely to lead the Republican conference. He faces a critical choice. Will he lead, or will he follow? And I don’t mean at the end of October, when John Boehner officially retires. I mean, right now. Will Kevin McCarthy step up and lead?
The grassroots have been besieging the castles of the Washington elite since the beginning of the tea party movement. The tea party brought us the largest Republican majority in Congress in modern history, with the expectation that the majority would bring principled conservative leadership. John Boehner was a sore disappointment. He has capitulated, compromised, and surrendered at every turn, leaving us with Obamacare intact, the federal government bigger than ever, Planned Parenthood still funded, and the EPA still run amok. And there are many, many more justifiable conservative complaints.
Through this debacle, Kevin McCarthy has been by the Speaker’s side, agreeing with Boehner on most issues, including when Boehner disciplined wayward conservatives. So the question now is will “Speaker McCarthy” be any different than “Majority Leader” McCarthy? Will he be his own man? Or will he just continue the Boehner years of lost opportunity?
He has two choices. First, and possibly most likely, he’ll choose the Boehner path. That path is clearly marked and well worn. However, he’s seen where that path leads. He’s watched Boehner search for the right balance as conservatives used their battering rams on the castle doors. He’s seen the constant conservative barrage, which brought Boehner only misery, ultimately a failed tenure, and early retirement.
The second path is the road less traveled, and a place where Kevin McCarthy might struggle a bit to find his way. This path would require that he step forward and declare himself his own man. He would declare that his speakership will represent a new, conservative Congressional era.
The revolution is at the gate, and Kevin McCarthy can try to stand against it or he can step forward and be one of the leaders.
Grassroots conservatives hope he’ll choose correctly, and perhaps he will. I’ve been told that McCarthy was instrumental in resurrecting and shepherding the Pain Capable Unborn Child Act through the House. While McCarthy is often accused of being too moderate, this is hardly a moderate piece of legislation. According to McCarthy, “Life is precious and we must do everything we can to fight for it and protect it.”
In the next few weeks, Boehner will give conservatives as much grief as he can before he leaves. He’s likely to work to pass a Continuing Resolution to fund the government, funding for Planned Parenthood, and raise the debt ceiling. Working with Mitch McConnell in the Senate, he will sell out the conservative revolution a few more times before the door hits him on the backside on his way out.
What will Kevin McCarthy do about it?
In an interview, where he often appeared defensive with Sean Hannity, McCarthy promised he would face these challenges by forming a group to “put a strategy together,” likening it to the way the House handled Planned Parenthood. But for those paying attention at home, the biggest victory on Planned Parenthood came in the form of a hearing this week. We can’t expect these leaders to make a difference when they’re taking pages from their predecessors’ playbooks.
Of his colleagues, McCarthy asserted “we have the ability” to put a strategy together. Like many things, just because the House has the power to do something, doesn’t mean they will. House leadership has also had the ability to use the power of the purse to defund Obamacare – but they haven’t had the guts to go that far.
If he wants to upgrade his title, McCarthy needs to develop and implement that strategy now. People aren’t waiting to see what he does as Speaker, they’re watching him now. In an act of courage, he can step away from Boehner and McConnell and chart a new course as a leader of the insurgency. Or, he can walk in Boehner’s footsteps to failure and early retirement.
McCarthy, watch your step. We’ll be watching too.