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Stirewaltisms: Hold on Loosely, But Don’t Let Go
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Stirewaltisms: Hold on Loosely, But Don’t Let Go

Advice from Paul Ryan to Kevin McCarthy—and everyone else who seeks power.

Kevin McCarthy addresses the 118th Congress after winning the speakership. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images.)

“To truly be good at these jobs, you have to be willing to lose the jobs.” That’s former House Speaker Paul Ryan’s timely reminder about one of the keys to leadership that has been mostly forgotten in Washington.

Ryan was talking to Semafor about the challenges facing new House Speaker Kevin McCarthy as part of Ryan’s pitch for American Renewal, the new book of social welfare and fiscal policy proposals he helped write and edit for the American Enterprise Institute. 

(Disclosure: The same think tank that provides a platform for Ryan and some of America’s leading policy minds to offer their vision for fiscal stability and social cohesion also provides me a platform to make jokes about walrus autoeroticism and work in gratuitous Lou Rawls references.)

You’ll never find a better way to think about the big jobs in Washington than the one Ryan repeatedly offered McCarthy as he begins what his former colleague allowed would be a “tortuous at times” tenure as speaker: “You have to be willing to lose the job if you want to be good at these jobs.” 

Ryan assured his interviewer that “Kevin has gotten to the stage in life and career, particularly now that he has this job, that he understands these things.” Those of us watching from the gallery have yet to see evidence of that, but Ryan knows McCarthy and I don’t, so perhaps there’s something going on that we can’t see, or maybe one friend is just speaking in a hopeful way about another.

Whether McCarthy has learned about holding power loosely through his many years and travails in seeking it isn’t the important question, though. The new speaker is in for such a season of skull busting that if he does still lack the appropriately cool attitude toward power, he will certainly get many more lessons in the wisdom of Ryan’s insight soon. 

The ones who really need Ryan’s insight now the most are the current occupant of the Oval Office and the massing army of Republicans who hope to take his place. 

After getting a reprieve from voters in the midterm elections and with the economy somehow still chugging and the Ukraine war still mostly going the West’s way, President Biden was preparing to announce his run for a second term. But just as he looked ready to take the plunge, Attorney General Merrick Garland blew the whistle on Biden’s mishandling of classified documents from his time as vice president.

This is the third rotation of this particular karmic wheel. Democrats, with a big boost from then-FBI Director James Comey, in 2016 tried to ignore Hillary Clinton’s irresponsible abuses of state secrets in the name of her personal privacy as secretary of state. Republicans said she should have been imprisoned for her conduct. Then Republicans got to take their turn as enthusiastic ignoramuses when former President Donald Trump was found to have shown an at least equally brazen and selfish attitude toward classified materials. Democrats pounced and delighted in reminding Republicans of all their “lock her up” jazz. Now, right on cue, it’s Biden’s turn for a beating.

Whatever consequences this may have, any prosecution of Trump or the ways officials classify or store sensitive documents is a question for later. The urgent question is whether Biden has and will cooperate unequivocally with the probe and, unlike Clinton and Trump, allow himself to be treated, to whatever degree possible, like any other citizen in a similar situation. He can’t stonewall or seek special considerations. He has to be willing to let the process play out, even if it seems like it might cost him politically, even unto the loss of a second term. As Ryan said, to be good at running for re-election, Biden has to be willing to lose re-election.

The challenge is even sterner for all of the Republicans currently considering a run for the presidency. Getting the nomination requires an appalling degree of self-abasement and striving. But as soon as voters sense that a candidate is desperate for power, they flee in droves. Primary voters will forgive lots in the way of flattery and flip-floppery, but never sweaty desperation. 

Ryan became House speaker and his party’s 2012 vice presidential nominee without ever appearing to need either position. Whether or not Ryan had ever wanted those jobs, he never let on publicly that he was in pursuit. He played it cool and waited for the jobs to come to him. The hard part of that is that you can’t fake it. When you say you’d be just as happy back at the ranch or spending time with your family, you have to mean it, because if you don’t, voters will smell it on you like a corpse flower. Think of Trump. His greatest asset in 2016 was that he appeared not to care about being president that much. Since 2020, it is clear that he is profoundly obsessed with it.

The great Sam Snead described the way to grip a golf club this way: “Hold the club as if you had a little baby bird in your hand; too tight and you’ll crush it, too light and it gets away.” The same goes for power in politics.

Holy croakano! We welcome your feedback, so please email us with your tips, corrections, reactions, amplifications, etc. at STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. If you’d like to be considered for publication, please include your real name and hometown. If you don’t want your comments to be made public, please specify.


Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 42.8%
Average disapproval: 52.4%
Net score: -9.6 points                            
Change from one week ago: ↑ 0.0 points                                                  
Change from one month ago: ↑ 0.6 points

[Average includes: CBS News: 44% approve-56% disapprove; USA Today/Suffolk: 45% approve, 52% disapprove; Quinnipiac: 43% approve-49% disapprove; Monmouth: 43% approve-50% disapprove; Reuters/Ipsos: 39% approve-55% disapprove] 

Polling Roulette

How much attention have you paid to the selection process for Speaker of the House in Congress this week?

A lot …………………………………………………………………… 22%
Some ………………………………………………………………….. 31%
Not much …………………………………………………………… 25%
None …………………………………………………………………… 22%

Do you approve or disapprove of the way the Republicans in the House have handled the selection process for speaker of the House this week?

Approve ………………………………………………………………. 45%
Disapprove ………………………………………………………….. 55%

Scientific American: For the first time, scientists have observed quantum interference—a wavelike interaction between particles related to the weird quantum phenomenon of entanglement—occurring between two different kinds of particles. The discovery could help physicists understand what goes on inside an atomic nucleus. Particles act as both particles and waves. And interference is the ability of one particle’s wavelike action to diminish or amplify the action of other quantum particles, like two boat wakes crossing in a lake. Sometimes the overlapping waves add up to a bigger wave, and sometimes they cancel out, erasing the wave. This interference occurs because of entanglement, one of the weirder aspects of quantum physics, which was predicted in the 1930s and has been experimentally observed since the 1970s. When entangled, the quantum states of multiple particles are linked so that measurements of one will correlate with measurements of the others, even if one is on Jupiter and another is on your front lawn.”

Los Angeles Times: “Rep. Katie Porter … is running for the U.S. Senate … widely expected to be vacated by Democrat Dianne Feinstein. … Feinstein has said she does not plan to step down before her term ends but has not announced whether she will run for reelection in 2024. … Her anticipated retirement is expected to prompt a contentious race among California Democrats. The state has a deep bench of elected officials hoping to win higher office who have largely been stymied by veteran politicians. In addition to Porter, other potential Senate candidates include Reps. Adam B. Schiff of Burbank, Barbara Lee of Oakland, Ro Khanna of Fremont and Eric Swalwell of Dublin.” 

Lee sounds salty: Politico: “Rep. Barbara Lee has told her fellow lawmakers she’s running for Senate in California, according to two sources familiar with the situation. She informed her colleagues in a closed-door Congressional Black Caucus meeting on Wednesday. Asked later … about her plans, Lee said in a brief interview she’d officially announce ‘when it’s appropriate.’ ‘Right now, in respect to [Sen.] Dianne Feinstein and the floods and what I’m doing, I’m doing my work. And we’ll let them know when I intend to go to the next step. But now’s the time not to talk about that,’ she said. Lee declined to say whether she’d run against 89-year-old Feinstein if the California senator chose to run again rather than retire. ‘I’m not really doing anything except letting colleagues know that there’ll be a time to talk about the Senate race,’ she said.”

Politico: Former President Donald Trump is planning to hold his first public campaign event of the year in South Carolina, in what aides are portraying as a first step into a more public phase of his 2024 White House run. Trump is slated to make an appearance in late January in Columbia, S.C. It will not be a rally, his advisers said, but will be a more ‘intimate’ event where he will roll out his leadership operation in a state which hosts a key early Republican primary contest. … Within the former president’s orbit, the current presidential campaign is being seen as very different from the 2020 one. So far, the 2024 campaign is tightly staffed, and [senior advisor Susie Wiles] said its ranks of aides would be filled out ‘deliberately’ – an implicit contrast with Trump’s reelection campaign four years ago…”

House holdouts say Trump no factor in switch: ABC News: “‘President Trump had no influence on the votes, myself or any of my colleagues,’ Rep. Bob Good, R-Va., one of the initial five so-called “Never Kevins” who pushed for major changes to how the House functioned, [said]. ‘Saturday morning, it became clear that it was inevitable that Mr. McCarthy was going to become speaker, and I saw no reason to prolong that through the weekend,’ Good added. GOP Rep. Matt Rosendale of Montana, who was captured in a now-viral photo waving off Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who was holding up a cell phone with Trump on the line, also told ABC News that the former president had nothing to do with his speaker vote. ‘Not with my decision,’ Rosendale said when asked if Trump played any role. “My decision was based on the voters of Montana and to support the constitution.’”

Cuban migrants test DeSantis on immigration: AP: “Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis sent dozens of immigrants from Texas to an island off the Massachusetts coast last year in a high-profile effort to highlight illegal immigration on the eve of the midterm elections. But as thousands of Cuban migrants flocked to his own state’s shores in recent weeks, he adopted a more cautious approach.The governor, who is a top Republican presidential prospect, activated the National Guard late last week. But related deployments of soldiers, boat patrols and military planes were slow to materialize. Some residents expressed frustration about the persistent influx of migrants as they recently inspected two large rafts abandoned in a Florida Keys community park.”

Politico: “The candidates running for the top spot at the Republican National Committee will square off in a forum later this month, according to an email on the rules and procedures for the election of RNC officers sent … to members by RNC counsel. That could intensify even further an already-heated race between the current leader of the party, Ronna McDaniel, and Harmeet Dhillon. The … candidate forums, which will be held for contested races, will take place on the afternoon of Jan. 25 and 26. The election for RNC offices will be held on Jan. 27 at the annual meeting, held this year in Dana Point, Calif. Only RNC members can vote for the chair.”

State parties put pressure on McDaniel: NBC News: “From Arizona to Florida, state parties are passing or considering votes of no confidence in [McDaniel], demanding new leadership after three disappointing elections. The latest signs of rebellion are in the Deep South, in Alabama and Louisiana. State parties there rebuked McDaniel this week after rank-and-file Republicans made their displeasure known. … Those states joined a list that already included Arizona, where Republican leaders in December passed a resolution calling on McDaniel to resign, and Texas. … McDaniel faces two main rivals for chair: Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney and RNC member from California, and Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO and staunch defender of former President Donald Trump.

Dhillon allies allege smears of Sikh faith: Politico: “[Dhillon retweeted] RNC members who condemned those drawing negative attention to her religious affiliation. McDaniel said she ‘wholeheartedly condemn[s] religious bigotry in any form.’ ‘We are the party of faith, family and freedom, and these attacks have no place in our party or our politics,’ McDaniel said in a statement to POLITICO. ‘As a member of a minority faith myself, I would never condone such attacks. I have vowed to run a positive campaign and will continue to do so.’ McDaniel is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As RNC chair, McDaniel has touted coalition-building with a number of minority groups, both ethnic and religious.”

Asian voters fueled GOP gains in New York: New York Times: “Asian Americans have typically formed a crucial and reliable voting bloc for Democrats in recent years… But Republicans shattered that presumption in November when they came within striking distance of winning the governor’s race in New York for the first time in 15 years, buoyed in part by a surge of support among Asian American voters in southern Brooklyn and eastern Queens. … Now, Democrats are trying to determine how they can stem — and, if possible, reverse — the growing tide of Asian American voters drifting away from the party amid a feeling that their concerns are being overlooked. … [M]any went with the Republican candidate for governor, Lee Zeldin, even if begrudgingly, largely because of concerns about crime. … Besides crime, Asian American voters expressed concern over a proposal by former Mayor Bill de Blasio to change the admissions process for the city’s specialized high schools.

New Hampshire, Georgia may stymie parts of Biden’s primary calendar overhaul: Politico

Former Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts replaces Sasse in Senate—Omaha World-Herald

Hawley draws a general election challengerSpringfield [Missouri] News-Leader

New questions about Santos fundraising—New York Times

Under fire, Santos reinvents himself again, this times as a hard-right populist—The Daily Beast 

Florida Dems feud over path forwardPolitico

Dems’ decade-long advantage in party preference came to an end in 2022—Gallup 

“Yes, as well as my Corvette.” — President Biden in answer to Fox News White House Correspondent Peter Doocy if the former vice president had kept classified documents in a locked garage.

“Most honored prophet of the Holy Croakano … The extended David Bowie (legally David Robert Jones) metaphor was most excellent.  Surely there can be a string tied from the current Republican congressional performers/entertainers, not so much from the Ziggy period, as to the Young Americans album (with title track and Fame as singles), the period and style Bowie called ‘plastic soul.’” —Scott Carter, Irvine, California

And croakano unto you, Brother Carter. There are a lot of reasons that I have so long loved the newsletter format, but none more than the chance to write for and interact with such an interesting, impressive, kind group of humans as my readers. Your deep track on my own already weird reference is proof of that. Bowie was an amazing talent, but it was his fearlessness that I admired most. He never stopped taking chances and trying new things even after he had achieved the kind of status that would allow him to do what many stars do and basically become impersonators of themselves. It’s impressive to see a bunch of botoxed septuagenarians who can still crank out the old hits in well-choreographed shows, but not interesting. Anybody who can do Let’s Dance with Nile Rogers, play Pontius Pilate for Martin Scorcesse, and go out on tour as an unbilled keyboardist for Iggy Pop after Bowie was already a multiplatinum artist in his own right deserves to be called an artist. While I will never do those things, I do try to remember Bowie’s example when I think about my own work on a much, much smaller level. This is supposed to be fun, challenging, and interesting—seeking to surprise and delight the audience, not be afraid of it. Thanks for making that possible.

You should email us! Write to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM with your tips, kudos, criticisms, insights, rediscovered words, wonderful names, recipes and, always, good jokes. Please include your real name—at least first and last—and hometown. Make sure to let me know in the email if you want to keep your submission private. My colleague, the robust Nate Moore, and I will look for your emails and then share the most interesting ones and my responses here. Clickety clack!


Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene on the House floor Thursday, January 5, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images.)
Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene on the House floor Thursday, January 5, 2023. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images.)

Lots of funny submissions for this week’s contest — though many of you people are really dirty minded. But among the entries we could share this week, there was plenty of good stuff, just as we would expect for this selection featuring Reps. Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene from our plum pic picker, Managing Editor Rachael Larimore. The winning entry got the nod for not only riding the zeitgeist but also capturing the tenor of  the moment being captured.


“You see, Marjorie, I couldn’t vote for McCarthy on round 14. I checked my FanDuel app — I had a live parlay going that needed him to win on round 15.”—Richard Basuk, New York, New York

Winner, Animal House of Representatives Division:
“You do know we give away free whips at the toga party?”—Mary Stine, Prairie Village, Kansas

Winner, ‘NERDS!’ Division:
“Rush chairs from Mu Alpha Gamma Alpha (MAGA) share their secret plot to foil Gamma Omicron Pi (GOP) at this week’s Freshman Orientation.”—Michael Johnson, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Winner, Knopfler Love or Money Division:
“Look at them yo-yos, that’s the way you do it. You play your guitar on the MTV… Money for nothin’ and your chicks for free.”—Catherine Truitt, Raleigh, North Carolina

Send your proposed cutline for the picture that appears at the top of this newsletter to STIREWALTISMS@THEDISPATCH.COM. We will pick the top entrants and an appropriate reward for the best of this month—even beyond the glory and adulation that will surely follow. Be hilarious, don’t be too dirty, and never be cruel. Include your full name and hometown. Have fun!

WPIX: “There’s a treasure hunt in the waters of the East River, off the Manhattan shoreline. … However, the rush to find submerged treasure in city waters may prove as dangerous as it is elusive. The search is for wooly mammoth tusks — thousands of them — allegedly dumped into the East River in the first half of the 20th Century. Each tusk could be worth thousands of dollars if they’re actually there. So a growing number of bone hunters is in pursuit. … The East River, however, is nowhere near the massive, extinct mammals’ former habitats.  Still, it became a magnet for treasure-seeking fossil detectives… That’s because Alaskan businessman and bone collector John Reeves appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience. ‘This is gonna be a bone rush,’ Reeves said…  [The museum stated] ‘The American Museum of Natural History has no record of any such disposal, including no record of a paper published that alleges this.’ Still, the search for the tusks remains underway.”

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of Broken News, a new book on media and politics. Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.