Hey Matt Gaetz, who will replace McCarthy as speaker? Looks like nobody

Congressman Matt Gaetz of Florida is so upset that Kevin McCarthy cooperated with Democrats on passing a temporary spending measure to forestall a government shutdown, he wants to work with Democrats to topple McCarthy as speaker.

But don’t worry, conservatives; Gaetz has already picked up one Democratic ally in his effort to oust McCarthy: New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Keep in mind, Gaetz does not have a replacement candidate. He’s trying to get enough Republicans and Democrats to ditch McCarthy in favor of a “replacement to be named later.” A few Gaetz allies floated the name of House GOP whip Tom Emmer of Minnesota, but Emmer is shutting that speculation down: “I fully support Speaker McCarthy. He knows that and I know that. I have zero interest in palace intrigue. End of discussion.”

Gaetz’s effort to replace McCarthy is likely to fail.  To remove McCarthy, he will need 218 votes. McCarthy allies say he has the support of more than 200, and the odds are low that even that remainder of House Republicans could come together around one alternative.

Twenty-one Republicans voted against McCarthy as speaker on the first eleven ballots this year, including Gaetz. Assuming he could unite those 21, he would need 197 of the 212 House Democrats to vote to remove McCarthy as speaker — more than 92 percent — and roll the dice on whomever came next. While AOC is on board, most House Democrats are reportedly not all that interested in helping Gaetz remove McCarthy as speaker. Better the devil you know than the one you don’t.

Gaetz is warning that McCarthy will make some concession to the Democrats to keep his role as speaker, and that “He will be serving at the pleasure of the Democrats. He will be working for the Democrats.” Of course, the only reason McCarthy is in this situation is because Gaetz is making a motion to vacate the chair and remove him as speaker.

If at least 218 House Republicans had managed to unite behind a continuing resolution, McCarthy would have had more leverage in this recently completed shutdown fight. Gaetz’s argument is circular; he and his allies refuse to cooperate with McCarthy, weakening the speaker in negotiations with the Senate and White House, and then they complain that McCarthy didn’t negotiate a better deal.

Last week, Hugh Hewitt denounced what he called a “knucklehead caucus” consisting of Ken Buck of Colorado, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, Ralph Norman of South Carolina, and Matt Rosendale of Montana, alongside Gaetz, the most outspoken, camera-loving of rebels against McCarthy.

An unpleasant fact of life is that the intransigence and counterproductive judgment of these lawmakers is likely a direct consequence of the heavy partisan tilt of their districts — a side effect of drawing of the district lines to maximize partisan advantage. It’s not just that Gaetz and those most aligned with him are from Republican districts, it’s that you must look far and wide to find districts more heavily GOP-learning than theirs.

Gaetz’s first district in Florida scores an R+19 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index; by that measurement, it is the most heavily Republican district in the state of Florida. Trump won this district by 33 points. Gaetz won reelection last November with more than 67 percent of the vote.

Andy Biggs represents Arizona’s fifth congressional district, which scores an R+11 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index and is the second-most-heavily Republican district in the state. Trump won this district by 15 points in 2020, and Biggs won reelection in 2022, 57 percent to 37 percent.

Ken Buck represents Colorado’s fourth congressional district, which scores an R+13 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index and is the most-heavily Republican district in the state. Trump won this district, 57 percent to 41 percent in 2020. Buck won reelection with just under 61 percent of the vote in 2022.

Dan Bishop represents North Carolina’s ninth congressional district. It scores an R+20 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index and is the second-most-heavily Republican district in the state. Bishop won reelection last year with just under 70 percent of the vote.

Ralph Norman represents South Carolina’s fifth congressional district, which scores an R+12 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index and is tied for the second-most-heavily Republican district in the state. Last year, Norman won reelection with 64 percent of the vote.

Matthew Rosendale represents Montana’s second congressional district; the state received its second congressional seat after the last census. It scores an R+16 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index and is more heavily Republican than the state’s other district, which scores an R+6. Rosendale won a three-way race in 2022 with 56 percent of the vote; independent Gary Buchanan placed second with 21.9 percent of the vote.

You notice that few of the 21 Republicans who held out against McCarthy in January were from anything resembling a competitive district. There are a handful of R+6 and R+7 districts in there, but by and large, they’re the most-heavily Republican House districts in the country.

These guys can take just about any stance they want, and as long as they win their primary, they are nearly guaranteed to win reelection. In the districts of Gaetz and some of his allies, the Democratic Party might as well not exist.

Kevin McCarthy may be a safe bet for reelection each cycle — he comes from California’s 20th congressional district, which is R+16 — but as speaker, he operates in a world where Chuck Schumer runs the Senate and President Biden is in the White House. He’s got a limited amount of leverage. We can argue about how well he’s played his hand, but keep in mind that part of his job is protecting the flanks of Republican House members such as David Valadao of California (whose district scores a D+6), Mike Garcia of California (D+4), Michelle Steel of California (D+2), Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania (even), and Don Bacon of Nebraska (even).

Not only do Gaetz and his allies not particularly care about the fates of House Republicans who represent swing districts, they likely can’t even grasp the political challenges of being a Republican representing a swing district. Republicans in swing districts have to come across to their constituents as focused on solutions and results, and be pragmatic, practical, and reasonable. They can’t just shout, pound the table, and do guest-hosting gigs on Newsmax.

The current narrow House GOP majority is built on Republicans holding on to swing districts that Biden won in 2020 and has a good shot of winning again in 2024. Republicans currently hold 221 seats, with one vacancy in Utah’s second congressional district. That majority includes 14 Republicans who represent districts that President Biden won in 2020.

(Keep in mind, you can have close races in not-so-swing districts; Lauren Boebert hung on by 546 votes last cycle in her R+7 district.)

Right now, there are likely many Democrats, and some Republicans, who think those GOP holdouts are being reckless, foolish, and self-destructive, and can’t wait to see them pay the price at the ballot box next time.

Ironically, a bunch of these guys probably won’t appear on a ballot for reelection to the House anyway. Bishop is running for North Carolina attorney general. Rosendale is thinking of running for the U.S. Senate. Norman is thinking of running for U.S. Senate and primarying Lindsey Graham.

There is considerable speculation that Gaetz wants to run for governor of Florida in 2026, but for what it’s worth, the congressman says he’s not thinking about that. He told Axios, “I ran into dozens of former colleagues from my days in the state legislature. They encouraged me relentlessly to consider returning to Florida.” Ah, so it’s just that everybody else loves him so much and wants him to run for governor.

Not only are these guys not worried about their stances hurting them back home, they may not be in the U.S. House of Representatives much longer. If you plan on being somewhere else in the near future, it’s even easier to burn bridges, alienate colleagues, and not care how your actions affect the rest of your team.

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