Kevin McCarthy’s quest for the House speaker’s gavel is a near perfect inside-the-Beltway story because it’s about pure politics and personal ambition without many narrative-muddling concerns about principles, governing philosophy, or policy considerations.
McCarthy was never a policy wonk or doctrinaire conservative, he’s a dealmaker and glad-hander, which is why most handicappers expect he’ll figure out how to horse-trade his way into the speakership. The only question is what he’ll trade for that precious gavel.
And the answer to that question holds both promise and peril.
As it stands right now, if every Republican who has publicly come out against McCarthy votes “no”—not just “present”—McCarthy won’t reach the 218 usually needed on January 3, when a speaker for the new Congress is elected. There’s a little more wiggle room than that because no-shows and non-votes lower the number needed for a majority. But given that 36 Republicans voted against him in the leadership vote earlier this month, he’s got work to do.