On Monday I wrote about Mitt Romney’s problems in his effort to become the True Conservative Alternative in 2008 to John McCain and Rudy Guiliani, and suggested there may be a bit of a vacuum on the Right. Since politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, I suspect there will be a lot of trial balloons getting hoisted in the months ahead for dark horse candidates who could theoretically seize the mantle of the Conservative Movement. Indeed, it’s already happening.The latest name to emerge is Frank Keating, former governor of Oklahoma, who has been quietly working as head of–and presumably a lobbyist for–the national Life Insurance association since leaving office in 2003. Keating’s a Catholic and certified Right-to-Lifer with big-time law enforcement credentials, having been an FBI agent back in the day, and Associate Attorney General under Reagan. Interestingly enough, his resume boasts of service in an FBI anti-terrorism effort in the early 1970s. It’s hard to have gotten onto the anti-terrorism bus much earlier than that.Keating achieved some national notice during the Oklahoma City bombings in 1995, and was briefly on George W. Bush’s vice-presidential short list in 2000. He’s not exactly Mr. Charisma (he apparently has a bit of a problem with uncontrolled rage), but again, we’re talking about a conservative movement that’s exploring the bottom of the barrel looking for that unspoiled apple.Speaking of the bottom of the barrel, conservatives could always resort to Newt Gingrich, who is already more or less into the race. His main calling card is his claim to be the man who launched the very Republican Revolution in Congress that his successors allegedly betrayed, which nicely echoes the rationalization that so many conservatives are making in dismissing the ideological implications of the 2006 elections. To burnish his national security credentials, ol’ Newt has become a cheerful and outspoken advocate of the idea of morphing the Global War On Terrorism into a rootin’, tootin’, shootin’ World War III, with potential invasions of Iran and North Korea to ease the pain of Bush’s Iraqi fiasco. (Way back in the early ’80s, Gingrich spent some time urging state legislatures to adopt Lessons of Granada resolutions to celebrate that famous victory as an antidote to the Vietnam Syndrome; this is a guy who knows the value of starting wars to cheer people up after military defeats).On the down side, the Newtster has a few problems, including his serial marriages, his really bad Civil War novel, and his record as Bill Clinton’s punching bag during the last half of the 1990s. But hey, you can’t blame the guy for trying.Indeed, Newt makes a lot of sense as compared to yet another retread who’s talking about running in 2008: former Virginia governor and RNC chief Jim Gilmore. In case you’ve forgotten him, Gilmore’s the man who got himself elected as governor in 1997 on a completely irresponsible tax-cut proposal, and then created such a fiscal mess in Richmond that Republicans split and Democrats won two straight gubernatorial elections. The first Democratic win, by Mark Warner in 2001, occured when Gilmore was running the national Republican Party. Gilmore was unceremoniously dumped as party chair after GOPers lost both of the 2001 gubernatorial races.So why is this guy maybe running for President? Here’s Adam Nagourney’s report in today’s New York Times: “‘A void exists,’ Mr. Gilmore said in an interview. ‘There is just no conservative right now who can mount a national campaign.'”That’s what I’ve been telling you.
TDS Strategy Memos
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By Ed Kilgore
The federal government is going to shut down this weekend, barring some miracle. And Democrats really need to make sure Americans know exactly who insisted on this avoidable crisis. It’s the House GOP, as I explained at New York.
If you are bewildered by the inability of Congress to head off a government shutdown beginning this weekend, don’t feel poorly informed: Some of the Capitol’s top wizards are throwing up their hands as well, as the Washington Post reports:
“’We are truly heading for the first-ever shutdown about nothing,’ said Michael Strain, director of economic policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a right-leaning think tank. Strain has started referring to the current GOP House-led impasse as “the ‘Seinfeld’ shutdown,” a reference to the popular sitcom widely known as ‘a show about nothing.’ ‘The weirdest thing about it is that the Republicans don’t have any demands. What do they want? What is it that they’re going to shut the government down for? We simply don’t know.’”
That’s a bit of an exaggeration. Many House Republicans, led by a band of right-wing hard-liners, want to impose their fiscal and policy views on the nation despite the GOP’s narrow majority in the House. Their chief asset, beyond fanaticism, is that the federal government can’t remain open past the end of the fiscal year without the concurrence of the House, and they don’t really mind an extended government shutdown, if only to preen and posture. They are being encouraged in this wildly irresponsible position by their leader and likely 2024 presidential nominee Donald Trump.
But the hard-liners’ real motive, it seems, is to use the dysfunction they’ve caused in the House to get rid of Speaker Kevin McCarthy for being dysfunctional. The not-so-hidden plan hatched by Florida congressman Matt Gaetz is to thwart every effort by McCarthy to move forward with spending plans for the next fiscal year and then defenestrate him via a motion to vacate the chair, which just five Republicans can pass any time they wish (with the complicity of Democrats). Indeed, the Post reports the rebels are casting about for a replacement Speaker right now:
“A contingent of far-right House Republicans is plotting an attempt to remove Kevin McCarthy as House speaker as early as next week, a move that would throw the chamber into further disarray in the middle of a potential government shutdown, according to four people familiar with the effort who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private talks.”
McCarthy’s tormenters would like to have a successor lined up who will presumably be even less inclined to compromise with Democrats than the current Speaker. And that’s saying a lot, since McCarthy has already bowed to the Gaetz demand that House Republicans reject even the idea of a continuing resolution — the stopgap spending measures used to forestall or end government shutdowns in the past — and instead plod through individual appropriations bills loaded with provisions no Democrat would ever accept (e.g., deep domestic spending cuts, draconian border policies, anti-Ukraine measures, and abortion restrictions). It’s a recipe for a long shutdown, but it’s clear if McCarthy moves a muscle toward negotiating with Democrats (who have already passed a CR in the Senate), then kaboom! Here comes the motion to vacate.
Some observers think getting rid of McCarthy is an end in itself for the hard-liners — particularly Gaetz, who has a long-standing grudge against the Californian and opposed his original selection as Speaker to the bitter end — no matter what he does or doesn’t do. In theory, House Democrats could save McCarthy by lending a few “no” votes to him if the motion to vacate hits the floor, but they’ve made it clear the price for saving him would be high, including abandonment of the GOP’s Biden impeachment inquiry.
So strictly speaking, the impending shutdown isn’t “about nothing”; it’s about internal far-right factional politics that very few of the people about to be affected by the shutdown care about at all. Understandably, most Democrats from President Biden on down are focusing their efforts on making sure the public knows this isn’t about “big government” or “politicians” or “partisan polarization,” but about one party’s extremism and cannibalistic infighting. For now, there’s little anyone outside the GOP fever swamps can do about it other than watch the carnage.