When Words Fail

Rep. Matt Gaetz talks to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy during the fourth day of elections for speaker of the House. (Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Kevin McCarthy’s epic struggle to become speaker of the House produced a lot of memorable images, but the most unforgettable was probably of Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Alabama) being physically restrained from opening a fresh can of whup-ass on Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida), after Gaetz ensured McCarthy’s 14th failure to get the gavel.

The significance of the near-altercation is that it had next to nothing to do with conventional ideological differences. Rogers is a very conservative Republican.  Gaetz is a cable news popinjay who happens to be in Congress. 

Indeed, the relentless torrent of never-in-doubt-but-often-in-error commentary last week exposed the poverty of our political vocabulary. While it’s true that 19 of the original 20 anti-McCarthy Republicans were members of the House Freedom Caucus (or were endorsed by its campaign arm in the midterms), the majority of the roughly 50 HFC members sided with McCarthy. You might not have known this amid all of the “establishment versus Freedom Caucus” punditry. 

Similarly, the holdouts were routinely called “ultra-conservatives” or “hardline conservatives” as if their opposition was driven by a deeper, more sincere commitment to conservative principles. But is anti-McCarthy Rep. Lauren Boebert really more “conservative” than pro-McCarthy loyalist Marjorie Taylor Greene? Heck, do either of them qualify as meaningfully “principled” at all?  

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