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It’s time for some game theory

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I was absolutely dead wrong about whether Gaetz’s attempt to remove McCarthy would succeed, on the assumption that there was no obvious replacement capable of commanding a majority. It’s not so much that the latter assumption was wrong as that it just didn’t matter:

If not Speaker Kevin McCarthy, then who?

That was the question hanging over the Capitol on Tuesday, as it became clear that Democrats were not going to help Mr. McCarthy survive the vote to oust him.

That there isn’t an obvious answer to the question was part of Mr. McCarthy’s ability to win the bruising battle for the job in the first place — he never let a serious alternative emerge.

Nine months later, there still isn’t a clear candidate in waiting.

“I think there’s plenty of people who can step up and do the job,” Representative Tim Burchett of Tennessee, one of the rebels bent on pushing Mr. McCarthy out, said Tuesday morning, but he said he did not know who he had in mind for the job instead.

Representative Eli Crane of Arizona, another one of the hard-line holdouts against Mr. McCarthy, said he wasn’t there yet in terms of supporting someone else.

One interesting question for me is how this will eventually work out for the Democrats who unanimously supported McCarthy’s removal. They probably had little practical choice — not only is it not their job to save him, voting to maintain his speakership when he wasn’t willing to make any concessions to them would be a terrible precedent. It’s also very plausible that whatever chaos agent eventually ends up getting the job will simply discredit Republicans further and create a more favorable political climate for 2024. On the other hand…there are a lot of ways in which an even more insane and inept Speaker than McCarthy can do material damage to the economy, and that will hang to some degree on Biden. I can’t predict with any confidence how this will play out but there’s a lot of potential dangers here.

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