Editorial: Kevin McCarthy quits Congress. It's poetic justice for the Trump apologist

Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., speaks to reporters hours after he was ousted as Speaker of the House, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Kevin McCarthy speaks to reporters hours after he was ousted as speaker of the House on Oct. 3. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)
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It’s not surprising that dozens of members of the U.S. House of Representatives are choosing to leave the dysfunctional chamber rather than seek another term. The politics are toxic. The rhetoric is ugly. And it seems that members aren’t interested in doing much besides fighting the culture wars — and one another.

But we don’t believe for a minute that’s the reason former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy decided to step down at the end of the month after 17 years in Congress. After all, he helped create the hostile conditions in Congress by toadying to the hard-right Republicans in his conference by, among things, voting to challenge some of the results of the 2020 election and authorizing a baseless inquiry into impeaching President Biden.

Read more: Editorial: Kevin McCarthy played with MAGA fire — and got burned

In the end, however, McCarthy couldn't manage the unruly conference and was deposed in October after a mere nine months in charge. His crime, according to the GOP hard-liners who orchestrated his downfall? Taking the kind of sensible action that Americans expect of their leaders. He's no a tragic hero, though. Just a victim of the MAGA flames he fanned.

Of course, he’s bitter about being thrown over for doing his job and overseeing a bipartisan deal to keep the government funded. Of course he feels used by Trump, who didn't help him keep the speaker's job. Of course, he’s angry at the extremists who engineered his ouster — enough, allegedly, to sucker-punch one of them in the hallway.

Read more: Who will replace Bakersfield Republican Kevin McCarthy in Congress? Here are possible candidates

McCarthy did the right thing to avoid a government shutdown this year, but as someone who ascended to such heights of power, he should be expected to put service to the nation and his constituents before service to himself. He could have put aside his hurt feelings and indignation to serve the full term he was elected to.

Instead, McCarthy is leaving early, perhaps as a way to strike back at the conference that rejected him (and humiliated him earlier this year through 14 unsuccessful speaker ballots before he was elected). His absence — along with the expulsion of Rep. George Santos (R-New York) last week — means the GOP's already slim majority will become even slimmer.

Read more: Calmes: It's about time Kevin McCarthy finally got out of the House

But his hasty departure also leaves his ever-loyal voters in the Central Valley in the lurch. Gov. Gavin Newsom can call a special election, though it would overlap with the regular election that begins with a primary in March. Either way, his district will be unrepresented for some number of months.

McCarthy made the announcement Wednesday in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, which wraps with this oddly sunny sentiment: "I go knowing I left it all on the field — as always, with a smile on my face. And looking back, I wouldn’t have had it any other way."

Really? It's hard to believe he thinks this ending to a once-promising career was the best possible outcome. The former California legislator joined Congress in 2007, one of the Republican rising stars known as the "Young Guns" along with former Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia and and former Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin.

A more honest statement may have read: “You won’t have Kevin McCarthy to kick around anymore.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.