CBS News recently estimated that Republicans are on track to win 223 House seats in November. There’s a decent margin of error, enough for the Democrats to keep a slim majority or, more likely, the Republicans to be a comfortable cushion, and the estimate would still be accurate. But suppose it’s 223.
Dear readers, there couldn’t be a bigger boost to Joe Biden’s re-election if Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos’ bank accounts made an evil money baby and gave it to the weird Democratic super PAC of this crypto billionaire. (Also assume Biden runs again, which I suspect.)
A narrow majority of five votes is a huge shortfall, to begin with. That likely means Democrats retaining the Senate, limiting the ability of House Republicans to do anything other than hold six months of hearings on Hunter’s laptop and indict Biden for, say, breathing badly.
It leads to a circular firing squad. What remains of the establishment recognizes (correctly) that the party squandered an opportunity by fielding fringe candidates and wants to sever ties with anything Trump-related; the MAGA crew criticizes the establishment for not being MAGA enough.
House Republicans are also giving Biden a foil, the same way Bill Clinton turned Newt Gingrich and company into cartoon villains before the 1996 campaign. (To be fair, not hard.) When they pass abortion bans and manifest other right-wing fever dreams, Biden can remind voters that this is what a Republican presidency will look like.
But most importantly, and most importantly, there’s probably an 80% chance that a narrow, hardline GOP majority will lead to economic disaster, and Biden will walk past the burning carcass of America for a second term.
If he wants more. If someone does.
To explain: Kevin McCarthy has proven himself to be an exceptionally weak Republican majority leader, easily brought to heel by Donald Trump and the far-right members of his caucus. He showed no ability to twist his arms. He would be a weak speaker under any circumstances. With five votes to spare, he will be the weakest speaker in generations, at the mercy of the Freedom Caucus: Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, Marjorie Taylor Greene, etc.
He will become a speaker because they allow it. If they get the rule changes they want, allowing them to kick the speaker out mid-term – McCarthy will be in a creepy mood ahead of the leadership vote, so there’s a good chance – he’ll stay on as a speaker because that they allow it.
The Freedom Caucus is also demanding that he commit to only bringing forward legislation that has the majority support of House Republicans, significantly restricting McCarthy’s ability to make deals. Again, he will follow.
At the same time, he will need House Republicans to do what they haven’t done in a long time: rule like adults.
McCarthy’s caucus is inherently oppositional and ideologically orthodox. Most of its members come from gerrymandered and dark red districts, and many have no interest in or understanding of politics. Even when Republicans controlled Washington, they couldn’t pass meaningful legislation that wasn’t a tax cut.
They make grandiose promises about what they would do with power. In power, they are the proverbial dog that grabbed the car (cf, the congressional shitshows of 2011-2013 and 2017-2019).
And in this iteration, Kevin McCarthy will be on Jim Jordan’s very short leash.
With that as a backdrop, next summer we will return to the dumbest of American political traditions: the debt ceiling crisis, the wasteful but potentially disastrous exercise in which Congress must increase the amount the government can borrowing to avoid default, which would be…well, bad doesn’t quite capture it.
Pension funds would implode, the stock market would crash, credit markets would crash, corporations would tumble, the dollar would plummet, inflation would soar, and the United States would lose its primacy in the global economy. .
A recession is a given. Global depression is possible.
As we always do during a Democratic presidency, we wandered to the brink in 2021 before Mitch McConnell agreed not to sink the economy for no good reason. This became standard practice after the Obama administration bought back spending cuts in exchange for McConnell agreeing not to sink the economy for no good reason in 2011.
The kidnappers continued to take hostages until the Democrats stopped playing along.
Last year, Republicans did a performative dance before bed. But McConnell is cynical, not crazy. I’m not sure the same can be said for the Freedom Caucus.
Axios reported on Wednesday that Republicans and their business bosses were beginning to panic over how President McCarthy would handle a debt ceiling crisis. In large part, that’s because Rep. Jason Smith, a Missouri hardliner, could take over a key committee.
And Smith thinks he can force Biden to “reverse” his “radical” policy by threatening to default. “If Republicans try to cut spending, surely [Biden] wouldn’t try to default,” Smith told Axios.
When that ploy inevitably fails — when Biden doesn’t budge, when Senate Democrats tell Smith to fuck off, when the few Republican moderates in the House falter in the face of terrible polling numbers — the Freedom Caucus will back down. does he?
Will McCarthy even walk around them when Trump and Taylor Greene and the Fox News crowd call him a RINO sellout, even if it costs him his job?
Everything about McCarthy’s story says he won’t.
A five-vote cushion means he will have very little wiggle room. If he can’t get votes on his side, including far-right members who have vowed never to raise the debt ceiling, he needs to cut a deal with the Democrats. If he can’t bring himself to do it, the default happens.
The alternative, of course, is that we don’t give irritable kids nuclear weapon codes they don’t understand. Again, by a 54-37 margin, Americans apparently think Republicans will be better for the economy.
So maybe we’ll get the default we deserve.