US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has been ousted – by his own Republican Party – from the second-most important post in the American government.
It was the first time in US history a speaker had been voted out in this way. As speaker of the House of Representatives, McCarthy was the most powerful single individual in the legislative branch, able to directly impact government policies from national security to infrastructure investments.
In the next few days, the House of Representatives will attempt to elect a new speaker. All other business is postponed until the speakership is resolved. This process is likely to be lengthy, awkward and difficult to watch.
The next few days will be a not-very-subtle reminder to the world that American politics remain divided and divisive.
Why did McCarthy lose his position?
The root causes of McCarthy’s exit are many – naked ambition, personal animus, the narrow majority of House Republicans, the confidence of the far-right wing of the Republican Party, Democrats’ willingness to step aside during the Republican turmoil and the apparently unending appeal of performative politics in the US.
The immediate author of McCarthy’s removal is his chief antagonist, Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, who called for the vote to “vacate the chair”. Gaetz is a right-wing, Trump loyalist, political performer who has become a notorious disrupter in the US government.
Gaetz has been under scrutiny himself after it was reported two years ago that the US Department of Justice was investigating him for alleged sex trafficking. The case was closed earlier this year, without any charges being brought.
No one is talking about those allegations today. Most political operatives expect Gaetz to use his new-found “success” in the House to run for governor of Florida in 2026 when the current governor and Republican presidential candidate, Ron DeSantis, is due to leave office due to term limits.
Will the chaos hurt Republicans?
The chaos that is now roiling the House follows several weeks of brinkmanship over the budget, with a government shutdown narrowly avoided over the weekend.
Add to the mix a Republican presidential front runner (Donald Trump) facing 91 charges over four criminal cases and a multitude of court appearances over the next few months, and the political dysfunction in the United States may only get more intense.
President Joe Biden and the Democrats in Congress likely enjoy seeing their opponents slaughter each other. And indeed, the disarray among Republicans may help Democrats stay unified despite their own internal tensions.
Republicans, however, have not always suffered at the ballot box following congressional melees. After a GOP-led government shutdown during the Obama administration in 2013, Republicans won control of the Senate in 2014.
Also, Biden isn’t getting any younger and it is not entirely clear he can handle the full-time job of American commander-in-chief until 2028. There are plenty of competent Gen-X Democrats – the governors of California, Michigan and Pennsylvania leap to mind – who may not stay quiet as Biden’s age becomes more of an issue in the lead-up to next year’s election.
If one of these ambitious youngsters decides to throw their hat in the ring, the Democrats may show the world their own version of chaos.
Foreign capitals no doubt see this turmoil and question the long-term reliability of Washington. Is it a harbinger of Trump’s return to the White House? Maybe so. Or just as likely – the Republican chaos turns off the swing voters in American suburbs and they become more willing to vote for Biden, the ageing incumbent.
In other words, American voters remain divided right down the middle.