Former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) was ousted this week because of the unfortunate tendency in our country today to get rid of leaders who actually do their jobs, largely at the instigation of people who enjoy upheaval.
I know many readers will resist that claim, so let me begin with an example from the Democratic Party.
For several years, we here in Los Angeles have had to deal with increasing homelessness. Until 2021, there were even tent cities crowding onto iconic Venice Beach. City and county leaders, almost all of whom are Democrats, wrung their hands.
Then, in June 2021, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, also a Democrat, vowed to have the beach clear by the 4th of July. He had officers offer advice and services to homeless people, then removed their tents. Today, the beach is walkable again.
Villanueva was demonized by the liberal establishment and the media, so he was voted out, despite doing his job.
So, too, was McCarthy.
In nine months, McCarthy racked up a list of achievements, which are all the more impressive given that he had a tiny majority, and that Republicans only control the House, not the Senate or the White House.
I’ve debated his critics. Not one of them can point to a solid, substantive reason for getting rid of him.
Some of their complaints are almost quaint.
You want a Speaker who will march through the debt ceiling? John Boehner did that. Conservatives eventually pushed him to quit. You want a Speaker who restores “regular order” in appropriations? Paul Ryan did that. The “base” hated him, and he also left. These aren’t things McCarthy’s critics really care about.
Boehner and Ryan lost support because they did other things to irritate conservatives, like supporting amnesty for illegal immigration. McCarthy did none of that. He passed conservative bills on the border and much else besides.
McCarthy also kept the government open last weekend, against all odds, when a shutdown would have damaged both economic confidence and Republican political prospects.
I’ve supported shutdowns in the past, over principle. In 2013, I supported Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in his effort to stop Obamacare from taking effect. In 2019, I supported Trump in trying to force the Democrat-run House to fund a border wall.
Those pushing for a shutdown in 2023 had no clear justification, other than problems like the national debt, which have been around for years and won’t be resolved without winning both the Senate and the White House and bringing Democrats on board in a solution.
The reason McCarthy is out — despite winning 96% of the vote within his party — is that a tiny, vocal minority, who had little record of doing anything about the issues they pointed to, staged a mutiny with the help of the Democrats.
It is telling that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) could only muster a “Gang of Eight” to vacate the chair. Back in January, he had twenty members who opposed McCarthy for days. He has actually lost support, even though he won the battle.
Gaetz was backed by voices in conservative media who enjoy watching things burn. They’re not always wrong, but at some point you have to stop destroying things and start building them, or you will lose your mandate to govern.
I’ve defended Gaetz in the past, when he’s been attacked by the left and the media. He’s done good work, at times. But his behavior this week reminded me of a kid on my soccer team in high school. He wasn’t that great, but when he was on the bench, he would stand next to the coaches and yell at the other players.
By the time our captains tried to stop him, several games into the season, it was too late: he had disrupted team unity so badly that we had a fistfight at halftime — on our own team.
The temptation, when you are facing someone like that, is to punish them. That is why frustrated Republicans are talking about expelling Gaetz. But that would just make him a martyr, and it would widen divisions in the party.
The other mistake — which McCarthy made — is to negotiate with them. That just gives them more leverage.
The way you deal with rebels like Gaetz is by giving them responsibility for something they say they care about. If they decline, their own supporters will know they were never serious. If they fail, they will retreat into the shadows. And if they want to succeed, they must do what they attack leaders for doing: work with others to find compromises.
America has good people, on both sides, who want to make things better. It’s easy to destroy them from the margin, especially in the age of social media.
Challenge the critics. Give them some adult responsibilities. See what happens.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.