The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion GOP coalesces behind nameless, faceless Thing that is not McCarthy

All the previous speakers had had mouths. Mouths and names! (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

The conservative rebellion against Speaker-not-quite-elect Kevin McCarthy continues, with a small but significant group of members declaring themselves a hard “no” on his candidacy. If even a handful of holdouts don’t crack, McCarthy will face an impossible math problem that will force Republicans to produce someone else.

To which McCarthy’s allies have a retort: Who?

— “In the Speaker’s race, it’s Kevin McCarthy versus the phantom conservative,” from Semafor

It could not possibly be the next speaker, Kevin thought. All the previous speakers had had mouths. Mouths and names! And, of course, faces! That was important, too.

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How could it be speaker? Didn’t you have to be able to speak, to be the speaker? Didn’t you have to be able to do more than just point an ominous hand that filled the whole Capitol with an eerie wind and sent shivers of horror through all who beheld you? Of course, he didn’t even know whether it really did that! He’d never actually seen the cursed thing!

No, it was perfectly all right and there was no reason to panic, and Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was not panicking. So what if he had lost a few votes of support, votes he would need to be speaker of the House, votes that turned out to be crucial because the Republican House majority was to be so wafer-thin? As thin as the veil that separated reality from the monsters of imagination!

No, that wasn’t the right kind of thing to think, and he wouldn’t think it. Anyway, his opponents hadn’t even offered a name as an alternative to him — just the word “no,” as though that were name enough! He wasn’t afraid of what that meant.

That didn’t mean that they were coalescing behind The Thing That Was Not Kevin McCarthy, a faceless, voiceless entity that was impossible to name or define, except that it was more conservative than he was and would be more suitable. That just meant they didn’t have a name! The Thing That Was Not Kevin McCarthy wasn’t even real! It didn’t EXIST. It was pure fiction, the product of sick minds — like the notion of a minority leader who would be able to withstand Donald Trump’s disapproval.

Why, some of his detractors had clear people in mind! Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) had said Jim Jordan! Rep. Jordan (Ohio) had a face and a name and a voice! So it wasn’t as though the only alternative to Kevin McCarthy was the nameless, faceless, voiceless Thing That Was Not Kevin McCarthy! The Thing was not going to be the next speaker.

These people were keeping their powder dry and their options open just to spite him, that was all. Look at Kevin, not worrying! There was nothing behind him in the mirror.

So there. They were going to pick him for speaker, or the Democrats would get to pick. Kevin had gone on Newsmax and explained all this. He could go again. Yes, perhaps he had better go again — or call Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.), to make sure she was still soundly for him. It was a bad precedent and would give her too much of a sense of her own power, but better that than the Thing …

Nothing was coming down the hallway! Nothing was scratching at the wood paneling! Nothing had seized the gavel in bony fingers and was tapping, tapping, tapping, louder and louder, until it drowned out even the beating of his heart! Not after all the appeasing work he had done, to Trump, to — shh! No, never mind. He hadn’t heard anything.

A shudder convulsed his whole body. He was meant to be the speaker! He would bow to anyone. He would do anything. Remember how he had flown to Mar-a-Lago after Jan. 6, 2021? Remember how he had rebuked Greene and now went groveling to her, and let her back onto committees? Remember how he had even encouraged those who wanted to overturn the election? No, nothing was crawling up his spine! What spine? Ha, ha, ha!

The Thing That Was Not Kevin McCarthy could not take the gavel. Kevin was all right! He was going to be all right! Nothing was chilling his blood. Nothing was there to be afraid of. Nothing was preferable to him.