The House GOP Is Reaping Exactly What It’s Sown

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy's bid for Speaker of the House has been significantly complicated by a handful of intransigents among the Republican caucus (Photo by Drew Angerer / Getty Images.)

This isn’t going to be my usual Tuesday newsletter—mainly because it’s not a usual Tuesday. Earlier today the New York Times announced that I’ll be joining the paper on January 30 as their newest columnist. I’m incredibly honored and grateful for the opportunity. Indeed, if you told my young self that one day I’d be writing in the very pages that I’ve read religiously for as long as I can remember, I’d be shocked. I wouldn’t even know how that could happen.

At the same time, this news almost defines the term bittersweet. I love The Dispatch. I love what we’re building here. Steve and Jonah have assembled an incredible team, and it’s been an honor to play a small part in The Dispatch’s founding years. We started with a half-full conference room and big ambitions. We’ve outgrown conference rooms. We have a talented staff that’s putting out some of the best reporting and commentary in the business.

I would say that The Dispatch is exactly what I imagined it would be, but that’s wrong. It’s better. Much better.

What does this mean for me? My writing will be at the Times, and I’ll do all the things that Times columnists do, including appearing in podcasts and other multimedia ventures, when asked. At the same time, I’m still going to maintain a toehold at The Dispatch. Sarah is taking over my hosting duties at Advisory Opinions, but I’m still going to be right there with her, trying to make sense of the law and doing what I can to keep the classical-liberal torch lit in the conservative legal movement. 

This won’t be the last French Press. That will come later this month. My first day at the Times is January 30, and I’ll be writing twice a week. While I’m at the Times, I’ll tell anyone who asks that The Dispatch is the best conservative media outlet in the United States. I’m biased, yes, but it’s the truth—and it’s true not just because of the team Steve and Jonah assembled, but also because of you, our members. Your support makes our work possible, and the community you’ve built is one of the most interesting and respectful on the internet. Thank you.

As I type this newsletter, the House Republicans are trying—and failing—to elect a speaker of the House. As Brendan Buck wrote yesterday in the New York Times, it’s been 100 years since the House failed to elect a speaker on the first vote. So we’re watching history.

It’s not the good kind of history to watch, however. It would be one thing if the dispute blocking Kevn McCarthy’s ascension to power centered around competing Republican visions for directing the House and governing the United States. As readers know, there are profound ideological differences within the GOP, and a debate over policy and ideology is well worth having.

But that’s not what’s happening here. Instead, it’s an unserious fight with serious consequences. McCarthy is getting exactly what he deserves. After January 6, he failed to lead. Instead, he swallowed what was left of his pride and traveled down to Mar-a-Lago to make amends with Donald Trump. 

Yet he’s not being punished for that grotesque capitulation. Instead he’s facing yet another act of “burn it down” disruption from many of the same figures—including Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, and Lauren Boebert—who’ve built their entire brands around trolling, rage, and rebellion. 

It’s possible that GOP obstruction will yield a better speaker. One can hope. But a hope is not a plan, and it seems that the “plan” is to simply block McCarthy and see what happens. 

While I don’t want to intrude too much on Nick’s populism beat, one of the tragedies of our time is that populists can often diagnose real maladies (elites have failed in many respects, and America faces real problems), yet they often decide to “solve” the problem with something  worse. America needed change in 2016, but Donald Trump was not the change we needed. 

This is an old story in world history. It’s not unusual to find nations in need of reform. Popular discontent is normal. But as much as the MAGA world likes to appropriate 1776, it reminds me more of 1789, the start of the French Revolution. The Reign of Terror on the right is not nearly as bloody, but through threats, intimidation, and at least one serious riot, the new right has demonstrated that it is far more adept at damaging institutions and destroying individuals than it is at articulating ideas.

So what now? We can mainly just watch and hope—hope that this time the GOP can stumble into sanity, take a moment, and think carefully about what it means to control one-half of the American legislature. But that’s just a hope. It’s not a plan, and there seems to be no real plan to make the GOP responsible again.

I don’t know if you watched Monday Night Football last night, but it was dreadful to watch Damar Hamlin collapse on the field. At the same time, even in a terrible moment, there were glimmers of hope. First, if you watched the ESPN coverage, you probably saw Ryan Clark share these powerful words:

Also, you might know that Hamlin had started a toy drive on GoFundMe to help his hometown community. In less than 24 hours since his injury, it’s raised almost $5 million. As I wrote last night, it’s incredibly heartening that so many Americans respond to tragedy by immediately doing something tangibly good:

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