Kevin McCarthy is getting properly beat up for his colossal blunder, essentially saying something that isn't so – that the Benghazi investigations are a political stunt. He has genuinely and repeatedly apologized. He is a good man who has worked hard for Republicans, in California as State Assembly leader and in Washington as House majority leader. Republicans might call it a day and anoint him speaker of the House of Representatives, except their intersection with McCarthyism involves a chain-reaction crash.
At the outset, we have an aspiring speaker of the House of Representatives who has impugned a serious congressional inquiry into the death of four Americans, including a U.S. ambassador, at our consulate in Benghazi. This was surely not his intent, but it was his effect. He did so gratuitously and unprovoked, unambushed and unambiguously, in two national television interviews.
The facts are well-known – that the policy of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Libya was flawed, that the situation consequently deteriorated, that the State Department rebuffed requests from Ambassador Chris Stevens for protection, that no attempt was made to aid him and his colleagues under siege, and that the administration seemingly engaged in a cover-up, with an account, knowingly false and conclusively discredited, that an anti-Islamist film led to uncontrollable mob violence, when the Sept. 11, 2012 attack was, in fact, premeditated terrorism. All this was to prevent a hole in the dam of President Obama's re-election campaign, the rhetorical fluff that al-Queda and corollary terrorism were under control.
Hillary Clinton's political life revolves about the certainty of a vast right-wing conspiracy, its existence again disproven, this time by McCarthyism and its fallout. If there were a conspiracy, Kevin McCarthy would not have spilled the beans, and Republicans would not react so stupidly. Presumably, the brilliant and sinister Charles Koch (Dick Scaife is deceased) would be pulling the strings of the congressional puppets.
So, here we are:
Blunder 1: McCarthy says, in so many words, that the Benghazi investigations are political. When you look at the question and his full answer in context, it's worse. McCarthy was speculating aloud on the investigations' political repercussions, but he clearly implied – some would argue that he virtually said – the continued inquiry is a sham, pretty much a taxpayer-funded scheme to deprecate Hillary Clinton and destroy her candidacy.
Blunder 2: Rightly offended Republicans on the Select Committee on Benghazi do not unanimously and publicly demand an apology and call for McCarthy to withdraw his candidacy. They should be angry, because their integrity has been called into question. Instead, they seem forgiving, and their reaction is mixed or muted, as if McCarthy may have merely been indiscreet, and many of them implausibly continue to support McCarthy for House speaker. Meanwhile, McCarthy does not withdraw his candidacy, and his supporters arrogantly push for a coronation, as if to celebrate.
Blunder 3: Republicans focus extensively and sadly on how McCarthyism gives Hillary her best day or week of the year and her campaign a rebirth – how Republicans, not Hillary, will be on the defensive for the upcoming Benghazi hearing. They lament her new commercial featuring McCarthy, while others speculate that McCarthyism somehow gives her the high ground, even in the email investigation. She is, after all, now certified as the perennial victim of persecution. Thus, by emphasizing how McCarthy unintentionally helps Hillary politically, they are reaffirming McCarthyism: that this is all about politics.
Blunder 4: They don't get it. According to the U.S. Constitution, the House speaker is next in line, after the vice president, for the presidency. Electing McCarthy as House speaker minimizes the indignity of his misstatement and indeed validates what he said; his elevation would make him a permanent target for Democrats. He is damaged goods. He has telegraphed that he can't do the public part of the job. In the television-radio-satellite-cable and internet-YouTube age, Republicans finally need a House speaker who is happy and articulate, not angry (Boehner) and mistake-prone (McCarthy). Let the majority leader dispense patronage, perks, and parking spaces.
Blunder 5: Conservative media are compliant. With the exception of the American Spectator's Bob Tyrrell, no conservative publications immediately call for McCarthy's withdrawal. Pundit Fred Barnes writes off McCarthy as sort of inelegant in his diction while he feeds a self-fulfilling prophecy of McCarthy's inevitability. In contrast, at least the Washington Times urges McCarthy's colleagues to "assign him a course in English as a Second Language."
Blunder 6: Some conservative leaders and activists wrongly see this as an ideological battle. But McCarthy has an American Conservative Union (ACU) lifetime record of 89, and he has effectively discovered and recruited many conservative candidates. The issue is not a government shutdown over Planned Parenthood, a mischaracterization actually enabled by incompetent Republicans who favor the shutdown tactic, since it is President Obama who would shut down the government, though Republicans would be blamed. Nor is it whether McCarthy passes some ideological litmus test before the House Freedom Caucus, the Conservative Opportunity Society, the House Liberty Caucus, or the House Tea Party caucus.
Blunder 7: Good old boy Republicans are hardly credible in urging McCarthy as speaker. Yes, he is decent and sincere, affable and collegial; he has been loyal to his party, recruiting impressive candidates, raising prodigious sums, but this is not a popularity contest for party hack. Congressman Devin Nunes advocates kicking McCarthy's (as of now) thirty or forty opponents out of the Republican Party. If that happened, Republicans might not have a majority in Congress. Actually, Nunes's bluff is intimidation to prevent additional ballots on the House floor to elect a different Republican.
Blunder 8: The two opponents of McCarthy are weak – Daniel Webster (Fla.-10) has been in Congress only five years, and Jason Chaffetz (Utah-3) bungled the Planned Parenthood hearings. Neither man campaigns hard against, but waltzes around, McCarthyism. Perhaps these two will be placeholders for a longer serving member of Congress who can yet emerge to break the cycle of dysfunctional House speakers before Republicans, with advance knowledge, add another one.
What happens now?