Not Exactly Encouraging

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., pauses as he speaks about foreign policy during the John Hay Initiative, Monday, Sept. 28,2015, at a hotel in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Ladies and gentlemen, Dana Milbank:

Kevin McCarthy is about to ascend to the highest office in the House of Representatives and become second in line to the presidency.

But there is a problem: The speaker-apparent apparently still can’t speak.

You know, you might think it a cheap setup, and, well, maybe it is, but the Washington Post column has something of a Be Sharps ring about it: This one writes itself. No, really. It does.

I have been tracking the California Republican’s valiant but often unsuccessful struggles with the English language for some time now, and I was alarmed to watch him lose another round on Monday during a foreign-policy speech to the John Hay Initiative, a new outfit of the neo-conservative bent.

“If I look at history of where we are it seems a lot like 1979,” McCarthy informed his audience in the ballroom of Washington’s St. Regis hotel.

“We must engage this war of radical Islam if our life depended on it because it does,” he opined.

And, yes, like a rock on a heap of two-bit proverbs, it only goes downhill from there.

Almost indescribably. The column could easily be just a string of quotes, but at some point Milbank is obliged to cut away for some commentary:

McCarthy’s difficulties were particularly alarming, both because he was mostly reading from a text and because he’s about to enter a very public glare in which his every word, or attempted word, will be analyzed. With the death of Yogi Berra, the new speaker may become the most famous mis-speaker in America. But in a sense, it may not matter what he says, because his colleagues won’t be listening to him anyway.

In the fractured House GOP caucus, the backbenchers are used to leading their leaders, and it’s hard to see how McCarthy, who is popular but a newbie without a forceful personality, is going to do any better at holding his members together than John Boehner was. He can either cut deals with Democrats, and be driven from the job like Boehner was, or he can surrender to his hard-liners and march with them over an electoral cliff.

Take foreign policy, the topic of Monday’s address. In a new book that the John Hay Initiative was rolling out at the event, the group calls for a massive increase in defense spending — to 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product from under 3 percent, not including the cost of overseas operations. If McCarthy were to attempt to get that through the House, he’d probably have his head handed to him by the budget-cutting conservatives in his caucus. The Hay group also calls for “the deployment of more U.S. forces” to the conflict in Syria and Iraq, including “extensive direct U.S. support.” If McCarthy supports that, he’ll face a rebellion from isolationists in his caucus.

And, you know, yeah, that part is probably pretty important; the likely heir to the gavel wants to go to war.

It is also worth noting competing narratives; Milbank describes McCarthy as popular. To the other, though, Ashley Alman and Ryan Grim of Huffington Post sneered, “There isn’t much to dislike about McCarthy, unless you’re annoyed with empty ambition”, and offered this analysis:

McCarthy is a likeable guy. But nobody really likes him. What’s striking about talking to Republicans about McCarthy is how few are actual supporters, rather than people who would rather he have a job than somebody they like less. It’s been working for him his entire political career, though, and politicians have been known to back all the way into the Oval Office. Find us a rabid supporter of George H.W. Bush if you think we’re wrong. Being liked is overrated.

We might easily run with Milbank’s assessment except to also bear in mind that the GOP has every interest, now, in rebranding the Distinguished Gentleman from California Twenty-Three as, well, popular.

Still, though, war and peace aside, this is the quandary: Why is it called a roach clip?


Wrong joke.

Point being, these aren’t Bushisms, and McCarthyism is already taken.

Would it be unkind to nominate Kevs? I mean, come on. #Kevs! Or how about, “He kevved it all up”?

It’s really easy.

A Kev in the mouth is worth a ....

Never mind.


Image note: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Calif., pauses as he speaks about foreign policy during the John Hay Initiative, Monday, Sept. 28,2015, at a hotel in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

Alman, Ashley and Ryan Grim. “11 Things About Kevin McCarthy You Need To Know, Or Might As Well Know”. The Huffington Post. 26 September 2015.

Milbank, Dana. “For Rep. McCarthy, the likely new House speaker, words still fail him”. The Washington Post. 28 September 2015.

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