Decision Points: The Bull Case for McCarthy
From a game theory perspective, McCarthy's prospects could be worse.
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1. Let’s Play a Game
If you put together a flowchart for decision points and outcomes, it looks like this:
At some point, one of two things will happen: Either the number of defectors will decrease or increase.1 If it decreases, then McCarthy stands firm and keeps voting for at least the next two days.
If the number increases—presumably by adding a couple “present” votes—then it gets interesting.
The incentive for McCarthy to step aside at that point would be that he can plausibly say that he put the good of the conference ahead of his own ambition. He can say some version of, “I think I could have won in the end, but didn’t want to do it at the expense of the party.” This saves him some face and—much more importantly—keeps him employable. He can ride off into the private sector sunset and make it rain.
McCarthy isn’t a rich guy and once his political career is over he’ll need income. The MAGA grift isn’t available to him, so he’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way. Meaning that he’ll need to avoid becoming a laughingstock and/or reviled figure in Republican circles in order to get a spot at the corporate slop trough.
Alternately, McCarthy could push all-in and risk blowing up the conference on the wager that however weak he might be, he’s still be stronger than any possible alternative.2 McCarthy would have to convince his supporters that there isn’t another member who could get to 218 votes. After all, he would only need to pull together four other Always Kevin voters to prevent anyone else from getting the gavel.
At that point, McCarthy’s argument would go something like this:
Look, things are already disastrous. Forcing this to go another week, or two weeks, isn’t going to make it appreciably worse. I’m the only one capable of getting to 218, which is why I’m not going away. If some of you want to explore other options, that’s fine. But you’ll realize quickly that there aren’t any. My vote totals might dip for a while, but eventually they’ll come back up as people understand the reality of the situation.
There is no viable Plan B. We just have to gut this out and get through it.
Four months from now no one will remember this procedural fight. All they’ll think about is the Hunter Biden investigations.
Maybe this would even be true. I don’t know. In terms of reputational damage, is there a real difference between finishing this thing on the 5th vote versus the 25th vote?
And I tend to believe that the McCarthy defectors can be brought over at least to a “present” vote if they sincerely believe that he can’t be pushed off the spot. As a wise man once said, “Everybody’s got a price.” And having both establishment Republicans and MAGA Republicans arrayed against them will not be comfortable in the medium-term.
What I’ve just painted for you is the bull case for McCarthy. There are two problems with it.