Donald Trump had another difficult day in New York as his civil fraud trial entered its second day. And then it got worse when the gag order was issued. But Matt Gaetz (R-FL), perhaps Trump’s most loyal follower, gave him a reason to smile. When Gaetz’ motion to vacate the House Speakership was approved, it was a dark day for the Constitution, perhaps the darkest since January 6, 2021.
Trump, of course, did not ask Gaetz to remove Speaker McCarthy, but did not stop the seven radical Republicans who voted with Gaetz to ensure passage of the measure. Perhaps Trump should be forgiven. His fortune is in jeopardy—a deranged judge will determine whether The Trump Organization loses its right to do business in New York. A deranged prosecutor is urging the court to require Trump disgorge a quarter billion dollars earned through civil fraud.
Regardless of Trump’s relationship with former Speaker McCarthy, the unprecedented House action was what Trump wanted. Gaetz’s motion to vacate the Speakership will throw the House of Representatives into chaos. Trump thrives on chaos. Gaetz delivered.
McCarthy’s decision to support a continuing resolution to keep the government running for 45 more days was the outrage that drove Gaetz to repeatedly threaten to “go nuclear” on McCarthy. Those 45 days gave Congress the opportunity to compromise and avoid disrupting services and benefits to millions of Americans who need them. It also gave the United States an opportunity to avoid embarrassing itself in front of the rest of the world.
The final vote to oust McCarthy was 216-210. With that vote, a scramble is underway to find a new speaker. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) has been appointed temporary House Speaker. Many expect Steve Scalise to be elected speaker, but it is not clear whether Gaetz and the other seven Republicans who voted to fire McCarthy will find that acceptable. Kevin McCarthy has announced he will not be a candidate.
Mr. Gaetz has become a much-hated man within the Republican caucus. He is so disliked by many of his colleagues that there is talk of attempting to expel him based on evidence that he transported underage girls across state lines for sex, has engaged in illicit drug use, shared inappropriate pictures and videos on the floor (presumably pornographic), converted campaign funds to personal use, and accepted gifts in violation of House rules. He was not charged in the sex trafficking case, but there is video that appears to show him using cocaine on the House Floor.
It is unlikely Gaetz will be expelled. If the House Ethic Committee moves to expel him, expect Donald Trump to rally support for him.
McCarthy’s firing required the block voting of the Democratic caucus. Should they have come to McCarthy’s rescue? Perhaps, for the stake of the stability of the House. But the Republican caucus would not have voted to continue Hakeem Jeffries’ Speakership if the Democrats had been in control.
McCarthy’s ouster says a lot about the ability of the Republicans to lead the House of Representatives. They failed. They do not deserve to control the House—a thought that many voters are likely to remember next November. A house divided (in this case the GOP caucus in the House of Representatives) is doomed to fall. Let’s hope that adage proves true.
Who is to blame for yesterday’s sad chapter in American history? One could point to Gaetz, but Matt Gaetz is an offensive cartoon. With his slick hair, reckless comments, and swagger, it is hard to imagine him having the power to accomplish anything on Capitol Hill. Gaetz should be considered as a symptom of the disease of the Republican party rather than its cause.
In more ways than one, the full Republican caucus is to blame for McCarthy’s ouster. Couldn’t they have stopped him from taking an action that all but eight members of the GOP caucus opposed?
What about Trump? It is credible to blame him. It is likely that Gaetz acted at Trump’s behest, but Trump himself is not the problem so much as the MAGA movement, whose purpose may be summarized as dismantling the “deep state.” The term “deep state” does not have a universally agreed upon definition but is widely understood to mean a government that does things for people. And the reason the “deep state” does things for people is because the United States is a representative democracy.
If America were governed by a single autocrat, say Donald Trump, hundreds of programs supporting civil rights, education, health, safety, and the economy would be ended overnight. That, for most of us, would be the end of the American Experiment. The Constitution, based on representative democracy to ensure citizens’ rights would have failed.
These are dark days. Trump has called for the execution of General Mark Milley, threatened judges and prosecutors, and used the word “deranged” more than most of us thought possible. I would like to say his political career is self-destructing before our eyes, but the movement he started—MAGA—may guarantee him the 2024 Republican nomination.
Should Trump win the presidency, our current form of government is in jeopardy. McCarthy’s ouster is evidence of the danger that a small handful of right-wing radicals can pose. More evidence will follow.
Andy Harris voted “no” on the motion to vacate the Speakership. I look forward to reading about his rationale.
J.E. Dean is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, and other subjects.