Right after the House passed the rule to begin debate on a stopgap bill to keep the government open on Friday, Speaker Kevin McCarthy smugly brushed off reporters’ questions, saying he wanted to take the Capitol press corps out to dinner to prove the shutdown pessimists wrong. He told us “you’ve got to believe.”
But literally a little more than an hour afterward, as he waltzed onto the House floor for the vote on the stopgap bill, known as a continuing resolution, the bill already flamed out in spectacular fashion, with 21 Republicans opposing it.
House Republicans have griped that they should pass individual spending bills and send them to the Senate and have opposed continuing resolutions to keep the government functioning.
But the problem with that strategy is twofold. First, there simply isn’t enough time to finish the spending bills before the clock runs out at midnight on 1 October. On top of that, the spending bills Republicans have passed have zero chance of clearing the Senate, let alone President Joe Biden signing them.
But Mr McCarthy has chosen to live in a fantasy world where he can somehow keep passing these types of spending bills and maintain his speaker’s gavel.
This is part of the collective magical thinking that Republicans have by and large adopted when all evidence seems to contradict what they seem to believe.
Mr McCarthy is not the only person to engage in this sort of fantastical thinking. His chief antagonist, Rep Matt Gaetz (R-FL) also seems to think that these individual spending bills could somehow make it through the Senate or, at minimum, he wants to continue to waste time so that he can signal to the most conservative voters that he is pushing for policies that will never become law.
Of course, Mr Gaetz also engaged in this magical thinking earlier this year when he took Mr McCarthy to 15 rounds to become speaker. Mr Gaetz never had any plan except to embarrass Mr McCarthy and never considered who else would get enough votes to pose a serious challenger to Mr McCarthy. Rep Maxwell Frost (D-FL) put it best to me after the failed continuing resolution vote.
“I got sworn in 2am on a Saturday night because they couldn't get their s*** together and they still don't have their s*** together,” he said.
But this collective dream is not confined to the House of Representatives. This week, Republican presidential candidates in Simi Valley, California, engaged in a Potemkin debate that had all the fixtures of an exchange among candidates.
But it is an utterly moot debate considering the fact that former president Donald Trump was not on hand. None of these back-and-forths matter as long as the former president does not participate. Whoever “wins” or “loses” these debates is irrelevant. Even when they do point their javelins toward Mr Trump, his lack of retorts turns them into the political equivalent of an old man yelling at a cloud from The Simpsons.
Meanwhile, friend of Inside Washington Robert Costa reported for The Washington Post that Republican donors, not confident that anyone on the debate stage could defeat Mr Trump, are now pushing to draft Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin into the race. While Mr Youngkin certainly could be formidable, given that he flipped a state that Mr Biden won, the Maga base is unlikely to turn on the former president in the primary campaign.
If the GOP donor class were serious about stopping Mr Trump, or at least understood how politics is played, they’d push the also-rans to drop out, stop funding their campaigns and super PACs and consolidate behind the most formidable candidate to get the non-Trump slice of the electorate to unite and take out the former president. Instead, they are thinking of adding another candidate who would further split the vote.
Also just this week, James Comer and the House Oversight Committee embarrassed themselves on biblical levels with their first impeachment hearing into President Joe Biden that produced zero firsthand evidence. Democrats routinely mocked them and it generated little more than derision, even in conservative circles.
Ultimately, the GOP has nobody but itself to blame. The elite donor class is disconnected from the base voters who show no signs of abandoning Mr Trump. Mr Gaetz and the House Freedom Caucus have chosen purity instead of achieving conservative goals. Mr McCarthy has chosen to keep his gavel instead of governing. The problem is this magical thinking risks cursing the rest of the country in an incantation that doesn’t mention our name.