This week’s race for Speaker of the House in Congress was to CNN as a tropical storm is to the Weather Channel. That is, both networks portray even the smallest dustup as if America’s complete annihilation could happen at any moment, while simultaneously hoping that things get worse before they get better.
That’s precisely what played out on television last night, with CNN anchors Jake Tapper and John King alternately wringing their supple hands together and fretting over the “symbolism” that, for the second time in two years, anarchy was unfolding in the House of Representatives on January 6th.
Don’t worry. It wasn’t actual anarchy of the kind where buffalo-hat-wearing kooks storm the Capitol complex. Instead, it was perfectly legal “anarchy” in which the people who are empowered by our U.S. Constitution to cast votes on our behalf cast them for the candidate they wanted, rather than a candidate other people wanted.
And so CNN’s paid actors, which they call “anchors,” fretted about the horror of it all, while somehow also reveling in the temporary ratings boost, just as the Weather Channel does during a hurricane. To CNN, what unfolded last week was just glorious. But of course they’d never admit it. No way. Instead, they pretended it was chaos. Bedlam. Utter disarray. Disorder. And yes, maybe even anarchy (I watched last night so you didn’t have to).
After four days and 15 rounds of balloting, Republican Kevin McCarthy finally won the votes necessary to become Speaker of the House of Representatives. And finally, too, CNN’s pretend “national nightmare” was over.
But wait. What’s that you say? You didn’t even know there was a national nightmare to enjoy on CNN?
I suppose there’s still quite a few out there who haven’t already cancelled their subscriptions to Disney+ and are thus still able to binge other moderately more entertaining content. So it’s totally understandable that some people have no idea who Kevin McCarthy is or why you should care.
If that’s you, and it probably is, don’t worry, you’re not alone. According to a 2015 poll conducted by the Washington Post, 88 percent of Americans surveyed were so completely clueless as to who held the post of House Speaker that they refused to hazard a guess. Six percent hazarded guesses and got it wrong, leaving just six percent who actually knew the answer. That’s six out of a hundred people. Pick one person from all fifty states and ask them the question, “Who is the current speaker of the House? and only three people will know the answer (amazing how percentages work).
I get it. You don’t care. And frankly, you shouldn’t. At least not about the actual “sausage-making” process of choosing a leader in Congress. But there are a few things worth noting, and caring about, as the 118th Congress gets underway. Here are my immediate takeaways:
U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz
Villainized by CNN for all 15 rounds of balloting simply because he’s a lightning rod for controversy, Gaetz nevertheless stood his ground from Tuesday through late Friday night. Even in the face of a screaming outburst from an incensed fellow member, Gaetz did exactly what he’d promised to do for the last two months: refuse to vote for Kevin McCarthy. So put that in your tea and sip it.
His stalwart opposition, bolstered by a handful of fellow rebels, provided America with a front row seat to how democracy actually works. If you don’t have the votes, you don’t get what you want.
Why you should care: Gaetz’s stubborn refusal to cave under pressure earned him legend status among the conservative right, but it also earned him and his colleagues a slate of concessions from McCarthy. Those concessions, and the object lesson taught during the week long battle, combine to send a strong message that Gaetz and his fellow band of rebels have plenty of muscles they can flex, even if they’re viewed as outcasts by the establishment. Expect more fireworks in the future, especially when it comes to major legislative packages, like raising the debt limit, and the budget itself. All will have an impact on our lives.
U.S. Rep. Byron Donalds
Nominated for Speaker multiple times and earning scores of votes over the last week – even though he made it clear he supported McCarthy – Donalds parlayed the attention into media appearances that did wonders for his name recognition and stature among his colleagues. He also caught the attention of political watchers from the D.C. swamp to the swamps of Donalds’ stomping grounds in Southwest Florida.
Why you should care: Expect more from Donalds over the coming years. He’s young, smart, and politically savvy. And believe it or not, openings occasionally arise in Florida for jobs with lofty titles like “senator” and “governor.”
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
It didn’t take long for CNN to firmly affix the blame for McCarthy’s apparent weakness in the Speaker’s race. The real villain, and the person who lost the most, according to CNN, was none other than Donald Trump, who pushed hard for McCarthy, and played a role in his ultimate triumph, but nevertheless appeared diminished in the process.
Politically, whatever is Trump loss becomes Ron DeSantis’s gain, and the current frontrunner in the 2024 GOP presidential sweepstakes (that is to say, DeSantis) definitely gained more ground this week, in part because of Trump’s inability to deliver a clean win for McCarthy in the early going.
But there’s another element to DeSantis’s gain, too: the sharp contrast to his work in Florida versus McCarthy’s rough start in Congress.
More and more, DeSantis is demonstrating that he has the valuable political ability to project control over the events the unfold around him. Time after time, DeSantis has shown he’s a master of long-range planning and execution, whether its taking a stance against controversial school curriculum or taking on Walt Disney Co. The governor plays the long game well, and is skillful at projecting authority and wielding power.
Why you should care: Those qualities of authority and control are highly valued by voters who elect leaders and expect them to lead. And those skills were notably absent in the process that unfolded this week in Congress (that is not a criticism of the so-called “rebels” who merely exercised their constitutional rights to oppose McCarthy), during the same week that DeSantis was earning praise for his “presidential” inauguration speech when he took the oath for his second term.
Political power, and its use, both matter a great deal, and we should all most definitely care about it.