A triumph for Trumpism but defeat for Trump - GulfToday

A triumph for Trumpism but defeat for Trump

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Newly-elected Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy walks to his office after a contentious battle to lead the GOP majority in the 118th Congress, at the Capitol in Washington on Saturday.    Associated Press

Newly-elected Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy walks to his office after a contentious battle to lead the GOP majority in the 118th Congress, at the Capitol in Washington on Saturday. Associated Press

The hotly contested, drawn-out election of Republican Kevin McCarthy as speaker of the US House of Representatives was a triumph for Trumpism but a defeat for Trump.  After 15 rounds of  voting McCarthy won a pyrrhic victory.  The post, which is second in line to the presidency, is key to the operation of the House as the speaker swears in all 435 House members, sets the agenda, and guides legislation through the body.

After being confirmed in the post, McCarthy tweeted, “I hope one thing is clear after this week: I will never give up. And I will never give up for you, the American people.”  In truth, he did not give up because he was determined to be speaker although a small but decisive faction had dismissed Trump’s backing and vowed, “Never McCarthy!”

 While McCarthy praised Donald Trump for supporting him during the ordeal, maintaining constant contact, and helping to break the weak-long deadlock, the fact there was a deadlock revealed that Trump could not command the allegiance of the most radical right-wingers in the Republican party.

These were the very people Trumpism created. They call themselves the “Freedom Caucus” and can do very well without Trump himself by out-Trumping Trump.  While Trump backed McCarthy from the start, the rebels exacted a high price for their votes making McCarthy’s victory pyrrhic. Putting his career as speaker as considerable risk, McCarthy has agreed that a vote to dismiss the speaker can be triggered by one House member. This means he will be at the beck and call of radicals, conservatives, and moderates on issues of policy.

McCarthy agreed that rebels should have a seat on the House rules committee which decides terms for debate on legislation. He accepted that bills should be drawn up and shaped by open debate rather than in closed-door discussions, lengthening the already slow adoption of bills.  He may have promised some of anti-McCarthy hold-outs chairmanships of key committees while denying these plum jobs to loyal supporters.  

He also committed himself to reducing government spending, a standard Republican policy, although the state of the nation requires a great deal of expenditure on health, education, and the crumbling US infrastructure.  He will press for stricter border security although neither Trump nor President Joe Biden has been able to halt the flow of Hispanic migrants across the southern US border.

McCarthy’s capitulations — which were not compromises — have both weakened the post he holds and undermined the already divided Republican party which he heads.  Moderates and moderate conservatives who voted for him from the outset of balloting are concerned that the nest of hotheaded radicals have taken over the party. In fact, they have.  

As the saga of the election of the speaker dragged on, Biden told reporters, “The rest of the world is looking” to see if we can “get our act together.” This is clearly not the case. The together act the US requires is a commitment to bipartisanship which, if implemented, can benefit  the “American people” as a whole.  While McCarthy has made just such a commitment, it is doubtful he can deliver due to the sharp disputes within his party.

Born in California in 1965, McCarthy is the 55th speaker of the House. He was elected to the  House in 2006 and served as minority leader from 2019-2023 and during the 2022 mid-term Congressional election helped his party to secure a narrow majority. Neither McCarthy nor Trump were able to conjure up the “wave” of Republican victors which would give that party a solid majority. Many candidates backed by Trump lost, making it clear that his star could be waning.

Nevertheless, McCarthy is a Trump loyalist who denied the 2020 election was won by Biden and took part in efforts to overturn the result.  However, he condemned the January 6th, 2021, riot at  the US Capitol during which Trump backers attempted to prevent Biden’s confirmation and blamed Trump, earning his displeasure. While McCarthy soon made his peace with Trump by flying to his Mar-a-Largo estate in Florida and apologising, Trump and his acolytes did not forgive him until it was clear McCarthy would be the only and logical choice for speaker.

McCarthy would seem to be an unlikely choice to carry the Trump banner. He is not a bombastic figure who made a name for himself in a popular television programme, a multi-millionaire with a chequered career in business, an alleged tax dodger, and rabble-rouser.  In 2015-16 Trump created

a populist rebellion against both Republican and Democrat political elites who have run Washington and state-level politics for decades.  

 Trump, who espouses conservative Republican policies, appeals to white men and, to a lesser extent, white women who resent the rise of women and people of colour to privileged levels of society. The election, twice, of Barack Obama was a “red flag” to such folk. Trumpite men, in particular, feel blacks and browns are taking jobs which belong to whites and without reason fear whites are becoming a minority in the US. Evangelical Christians also support Trump, despite his well-known faults and sins, because he promises to uphold the sanctity of the family.

Trump, now a candidate for reelection in 2024, offers protection to corporations and oligarchs while promising voters social benefits which he has no intention of delivering.  While in office, he enacted large tax cuts for wealthy corporations and individuals, keeping donors sweet for the coming race.   

However, the majority of US citizens heaved a sigh of relief when Trump lost the presidential election by a large margin to Biden, an elderly, grandfatherly, ex-vice president, and senator who was well known for moderation. The erratic Trump’s four years in office were destructive of US “democracy” and undermined confidence in the US as the leading global power. Biden’s Democrats won enough seats in last November’s Congressional elections to keep the Senate and deny the Republicans a firm majority in the House.

It remains to be seen if McCarthy’s coming two years as House speaker will be another ride on a roller-coaster or whether he will be able to command the disparate wings of his party and govern a  deeply divided country where resentments run deep and guns are omnipresent.  What happens to Trump in 2024 could depend on McCarthy’s conduct of House business in these two years.   

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