Former Trump acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney told Yahoo News Tuesday he could not wrap his head around the intransigence on display from nearly two dozen House Republicans who voted three times in a row to block Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., from becoming the next House speaker.
“I don’t understand it. It seems like it’s so personal,” Mulvaney, an insurgent Republican member of Congress who in 2013 voted to keep Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, from becoming speaker, said in an interview.
“There is no complaint against Kevin like we did against John Boehner. You ask me why we didn’t vote for John Boehner, I could give you a list of 10 things,” Mulvaney said. “We perceived he marginalized conservatives. Kevin McCarthy is getting ready to make Jim Jordan the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. That’s the opposite of marginalizing conservatives.”
When pressed as to the possible motives conservative members of the House Freedom Caucus might have for opposing McCarthy, Mulvaney, who, as a House member from South Carolina also helped establish that caucus, said they were driven by a quest for fame and notoriety, consequences be damned.
“You can raise a lot more money off of being outrageous. I think that’s what it is. I think a lot of these guys like to be famous and they can raise a lot more money by doing it,” Mulvaney said.
Asked what the conservative faction would do with this money, Mulvaney replied, “Run for higher office. Get famous.”
Another former member of Congress, Jamie Herrera Butler of Washington state, said on CNN that for the anti-McCarthy Republicans “this their big chance to make headlines, to put out tweets, to build their social media narrative.”
“They’re probably not going to get as much more of that moving forward so they’re going to take it for all it’s worth,” she said.
Brendan Buck, who worked for Boehner and his successor, former Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, said on MSNBC that the chaos on Capitol Hill “says a lot about how broken our politics are.”
Writing in the Dispatch, anti-MAGA conservative David French said that the ringleaders of the House Republican rebellion — including Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., and Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla. — had “built their entire brands around trolling, rage, and rebellion.”
Many of the high-profile names opposing McCarthy are known more for outrageous antics than they are for any serious attempts to solve real problems through law, critics say. Conservative writer Yuval Levin, for instance, observed that many members of Congress now see themselves as performers, or actors, rather than as legislators.
“Many members of Congress have come to view the institution as a kind of platform for themselves — a way to raise their profile, to become celebrities in the world of cable news or talk radio, and in essence to perform,” Levin said in 2018. “And what’s lost in the process is the capacity to legislate, to deliberate, to compromise.”
“Members come to see themselves as players in a larger political ecosystem the point of which is not legislating or governing but rather a kind of performative outrage for a partisan audience. Their incentives are rooted in that understanding, and so are not really about legislating,” Levin added.
McCarthy’s opponents, according to critics, are simply continuing a trend of the last several years. In 2013, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, regularly vowed to “defund Obamacare.” While he never delivered on that promise, he grew his following, and raised money from grassroots donors that he used to fuel a run for president in 2016.
In 2018, multiple Democrats — including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. — won seats in the House while promising to “abolish ICE,” the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who would run for president in 2020, joined in on the calls. Of course, ICE still exists today. But the dramatic, black-and-white, easy-to-understand slogans brought plenty of attention and money to AOC and Warren.
“Honestly, if it’s not Kevin, I don’t know who it is, and that’s the conversation I’ve been having with these 19 Never-Kevin folks, many of whom are my friends, which is, ‘Guys, what’s the plan here? If it’s not Kevin, then who?’” Mulvaney said.
Buck agreed, saying the conservative refusal to fall in line seemed to be “just to embarrass Kevin McCarthy to death.”