An Outbreak of Hostilities is Coming to The GOP Caucus in the House -- Kevin McCarthy the Likely Loser

An Outbreak of Hostilities is Coming to The GOP Caucus in the House -- Kevin McCarthy the Likely Loser
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

A signal came this week that should give Pres. Trump’s MAGA constituency pause in its desire to abandon the existing GOP in favor of a third party. The process is now underway whereby the GOP is likely to undergo a significant change originating in the House Republican caucus, and it will set the table for the 2022 midterms, and the unification of the party under a Post-Trump agenda that builds on the first Trump term.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) announced he will not seek the Senate seat coming open with the announcement by Sen. Rob Portman that he will not seek re-election in 2022.

As I wrote here, Jordan would have been able to easily clear the GOP field of any other candidates for the primary. With Ohio having been carried by Pres. Trump in both 2016 and 2020, it is no longer a “swing state” – much like western Pennsylvania, Ohio is now a solid GOP state and Jordan would likely cruise to victory in the general.

So what motivated him to pass on the opportunity? Bigger fish to fry, I think.

Even though Jordan’s tenure in the House is relatively short by historical standards — he’s in only his eighth term — because of turnover in the GOP ranks that started in 2010 with the Tea Party election, he has rapidly moved up in seniority on some very significant House Committees.  He is the Ranking Member of the Judiciary Committee and is a senior GOP member on the House Oversight Committee.  There is no doubt that Jordan and his supporters in the GOP caucus are looking at the substantial likelihood that the GOP recaptures the House Majority in 2022, and take over the Committee Chairs and Speakership.  Jordan would be Chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the second half of the Biden term, as well as be a powerful member of the Oversight Committee.

But, just maybe, Jordan could be Speaker of the House.

Kevin McCarthy, the GOP Majority Leader, would be the natural candidate to be the next Speaker but he has been in that position before and found that he lacked the support in the caucus — for a variety of reasons.  I have written positively about Kevin McCarthy because I have a longer view of who he is and where he came from to be the GOP Majority Leader, having watched him going back to 2000 before he ran for office the very first time.

But I think he has likely done fatal damage to any chance he might have to become Speaker by feeling the need to apportion “blame” to Pres. Trump for the events of Jan. 6.  He wasn’t the only GOP House member who attempted to deflect away heat from the media and Democrats — based on a foolish assumption they would stop — over GOP members in the House “objecting” to the electoral vote count.

Further, his continued defense of Liz Cheney’s vote to impeach has placed him on the side of a likely minority in the caucus — a minority which will shrink even further over time — with no bridge back to the majority.  That was a “Shirts v. Skins” moment.

But probably the biggest problem for McCarthy is simply the fact that this fight between the GOP leadership in the House and the more conservative Freedom Caucus before President Trump has been going on for 8 years, with Jordan among the leaders of the party insurgents.

Jordan has gained in numbers while McCarthy has lost numbers.

Jordan played a pivotal role in unseating his fellow GOP House member John Boehner from his post as Speaker by leading a revolt of the Freedom Caucus against him.  Boehner managed to win the vote and become Speaker, but he was badly wounded by the fight, and it was clear he could not effectively lead the House with a large portion of his own caucus not supporting him.  Kevin McCarthy should have been next in line, but the Freedom Caucus would not agree on McCarthy either, which led to the compromise that pushed Paul Ryan ahead of many more senior members of the GOP to become Speaker.  Jordan received votes from House members to be Speaker in each vote.

But after four years of wins by House members who supported Pres. Trump and are supported by his MAGA constituency, with losses and retirements by more of the “Old Guard” GOP House members who had been elected to the House prior to 2010, Jordan is now poised to supplant McCarthy atop the caucus, a fact exposed by McCarthy’s inability to protect Liz Cheney from her folly.

Rather than run for Senate where he’d be 50th in Seniority on the GOP side with little meaningful power, Jim Jordan is going to plan for the next two years how he is going to run the House as Speaker.

A noteworthy data point is that of the ten House members who voted in favor of impeachment, seven already have primary challengers for 2022. Some are serious, some seem to be gadflies.  But it is very likely that there will be many more primary challenges made against sitting GOP House members by candidates that are seen to be more closely aligned with the MAGA agenda.

To the extent more MAGA-aligned candidates win primaries and general elections in 2022, Jordan’s position will grow stronger and McCarthy’s weaker. A takeover of the leadership in the House by Jim Jordan and the MAGA/Freedom Caucus will set the stage for a GOP candidacy in 2024 that reflects the post-Trump MAGA policy agenda, and likely a permanent burying of the Bush-Cheney GOP in the same manner that Ronald Reagan’s turn of the GOP to Goldwater Conservatism marked the end of East Coast Rockefeller Republicanism.

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