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The Squad, real and imagined


Molly Ball has a very entertaining profile of Matt Gaetz, whose self-perception as a tactical supergenius may be somewhat flawed:

The House has had no speaker since Gaetz made a motion to vacate the position, then joined on Oct. 3 with seven other Republicans and 208 Democrats to oust Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) from the role. Rep. Jim Jordan, the archconservative Ohio Republican whom Gaetz calls a mentor, this week failed on three ballots to secure the majority of the body’s votes, losing support on each roll call and then bowing out of the race Friday afternoon. No one else seems to have a clear path to 217 GOP votes for the position. 

Many of his colleagues blame Gaetz for the paralysis and acrimony that have ensued. When Gaetz rose to speak in a closed-door party meeting on Thursday, McCarthy told him to “sit your ass down,” and another Republican, Rep. Mike Bost of Illinois, cursed and lunged at Gaetz.

Asked about the encounter afterward, McCarthy told reporters, “Listen, the whole country, I think, would scream at Matt Gaetz right now.”


To many Republicans, the hair-gelled Gaetz is personally responsible for not only sparking the current chaos but setting a destructive precedent that continues to hobble the body, as small minorities assemble to block any speaker from being elected. Colleagues have called him a “charlatan,” a “vile person” and a “Republican running with scissors.” Former Speaker Paul Ryan said on CNBC, “What Matt Gaetz did is a disgrace.” Rep. John Rutherford, one of 20 Republican holdouts who consistently didn’t support Jordan for speaker, explained his opposition: “I’m a no on allowing Matt Gaetz and the other seven to win by putting their individual in as speaker.” 


In the speakerless weeks since he pulled the trigger, Gaetz has tried to be strategic, fading into the background at times and speaking little in the conference meetings he terms “struggle sessions.” Recognizing that he might hurt more than help his cause of electing a new, more conservative speaker, he has sought to avoid further inflaming his colleagues. On Tuesday he apologized for a fundraising email that called the Jordan holdouts “RINOs”—Republicans in Name Only—saying it was sent by his campaign without his approval. McCarthy on Wednesday suggested the email was responsible for losing Jordan votes.

To be Scrupulously Fair, there is a pretty extensive history of blue-district Republicans backing down after being called RINOs, so I can understand Gaetz and Jordan being surprised that it didn’t work this time. On the other hand, their failure is a testament to just how widely they — and Gaetz in particular — are despised by their colleagues. Getting marginal Republicans to grow a spine ain’t easy!

A clue to the unraveling of the Republican conference can be seen in this willful misperception:

During his years in the minority, Gaetz studied the tactics of the left-wing Squad—the name coined by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for the informal group of younger, progressive House Democrats—viewing them as role models in asymmetric power.

Gaetz seems to have studied preemptive hand-wringing coverage of the Squad as opposed to their actual track records in Congress. They have in fact been constructive members of the Democratic coalition, who worked with Pelosi to achieve policy goals. Indeed, to the extent that there is any chaos in the Democratic caucuses, it has come from people like Sinema and the House maximum-SALT-deduction crew, not the Squad.

Gaetz is modeling himself on the AOC of Freddie deBoer’s fondest wishes — one unconcerned about policy outcomes, obsessed with symbolic gestures, and above all motivated by intraparty conflict as an end in itself — rather than the actually existing AOC.

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