Holy entitlement, Batman! Republicans are furious Democrats didn't save Kevin McCarthy from himself

Kevin McCarthy; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images
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Anyone who has paid even the slightest attention to the events leading up to the historic ouster of Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., as speaker of the House knows exactly who is to blame here: McCarthy and his fellow Republicans. For years, they've rolled out the welcome mat to Donald Trump and his wrecking crew of MAGA camera hogs, foolishly believing that they could harness the chaotic villainy without getting burned in the process. They refused to listen to former Trump "fixer" Michael Cohen when he warned Republicans in 2019 that those who "follow Mr. Trump as I did, blindly, are going to suffer the same consequences that I'm suffering."

Granted, McCarthy didn't get hauled off to prison like Cohen. But he still faced a tasty comeuppance this week when the sadistic bullies he empowered in his caucus, led by Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida, vacated his seat for no other reason than the sheer satisfaction of taking out their leader. Now shellshocked Republicans know who they want to blame for everything that has happened, and — surprise! — it's not themselves. Oh no, they're mad at Democrats for refusing to swoop in and save McCarthy from his fate.

As soon as he was booted, McCarthy laid out his views clearly: Republicans should get to act like drunk bulls savaging china shops, and it's the duty of Democrats to come in quietly after to clean up the mess. "I think today was a political decision by the Democrats," he whined in a press conference after the vote, complaining that the opposition party owed him their votes to protect "the institution."

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Reality check: This whole thing only happened because McCarthy, in his desperation to rally Gaetz's arson squad to his side at the beginning of this term, foolishly gave in to their demands to make it easy to vote to vacate the Speaker's seat. It was a Republican, Gaetz, who used that power. There is no reason to expect Democrats to vote for an opposition party's leader, especially when he refuses to offer any concessions in exchange. Yet Republicans were suddenly unified in their echoes of McCarthy's claim that Democrats are obligated to bail Republicans out of problems of the GOP's own making.

Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., who has taken over as acting Speaker, complained that Democrats "can't be counted on in a moment like this." Freshman Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y., one of 18 GOP lawmakers in districts that President Joe Biden won, claimed on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Democrats should have saved McCarthy to "put the country first." Former George W. Bush official Ari Fleischer griped that "foolish" Democrats were supposedly responsible for the fiasco. Brendan Buck, an aide to former GOP Speakers Paul Ryan and John Boehner, both of whom resigned after threats to their leadership from within their own caucuses, tweeted that Democrats can't "see past their hatred of McCarthy to recognize how bad a precedent this would be." On Fox News, hosts bellyached, "that's what you get for trusting Democrats." Former Trump aide Stephen Miller blamed Democrats, ignoring that his old boss couldn't be bothered to make a single phone call on McCarthy's behalf. At the Daily Beast, never-Trump Republican Matt Lewis wrote that Democrats "failed to do the right thing on behalf of the American people" by not stopping Republicans from self-destruction. Almost immediately after Tuesday's vote, Republicans in House leadership lashed out at Democrats, threatening to abandon bipartisan working groups and stripping Democrats of office space.

Remember: Democrats actually offered to fish McCarthy out of this situation he'd caught himself in. They just expected a few things in exchange, such as rules changes to prevent this level of chaos. McCarthy offered them nothing but fart noises — and thus got nothing in return. Republicans claim to be the party of "personal responsibility," yet they can never take responsibility for themselves.

But on one level, it's not a surprise that Republicans are acting like spoiled children. The reason they expect Democrats to fix the problems Republicans cause is that, well, Democrats have been doing just that forever. Over the past couple of decades, Republicans have acted with reckless abandon, wrecking the economy, health care systems, foreign policy, and every other aspect of government, safe in the assumption that when they break things too badly, they can count on Democrats to swoop in and fix things for them.

As Philip Bump in the Washington Post writes, "Why, particularly for the past decade or so, has it consistently been up to Democrats to be the line of defense?" Republicans get to go buck wild with a baseball bat, and it's always assumed Democrats will come in with a broom. President Barack Obama's time in office was largely dedicated to cleaning up the economic and military damage from Bush's failed presidency. It is now the same story with President Biden, who stabilized the country after Trump's presidency left us with economic catastrophe, an out-of-control pandemic and even an attempted coup.

This cavalier "Democrats will save us from ourselves" attitude permeates everything Republicans do. It's why Republicans are constantly threatening to default on the national debt and/or shut down the government. They never expect to face consequences for it, because Democrats, who actually care about the American people, will do whatever it takes to mitigate the economic damage.

We even saw how this works with the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Republicans are trying to evade the political fallout by saying they "left it to the states." This is a tacit admission that they expect doctors in blue states to step up and handle all those abortion patients now deprived of medical care at home.

Unfortunately, Democrats often have little choice but to fix problems Republicans caused and then ran away from. Obama couldn't just let the banking system collapse. Biden wouldn't follow in Trump's footsteps of letting COVID-19 have its way with the public. Blue states aren't going to turn away needy abortion patients. Democrats in Congress won't allow the U.S. to default on its debt, causing worldwide economic catastrophe.

Because Democrats are generally decent people who don't want others to suffer, Republicans can bully them into solving problems Republicans cause. Republicans can skate away, consequence-free. The issue for McCarthy, however, is there's no real appeal to the greater good Republicans can use to foist responsibility onto Democrats. "What if he's replaced with someone worse?" is a hard sell. McCarthy caters to Trump, has started an impeachment inquiry of Biden based on lies, and constantly negotiates in bad faith — it really doesn't get worse than that. "What about institutional norms?" is also not going to fly, when it's McCarthy who torched those norms. This isn't the fate of the American economy at stake, but the career of a soulless MAGA sell-out. Of course, Democrats don't care.

Democrats are setting a boundary with Republicans, and by god, it's fun to watch. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has been dunking on the entitled whiners and it's glorious.

She's right, of course, to see the gender dynamics in this. There's a long and dumb tradition in the Beltway of treating Democrats like the Mommy Party and Republicans like the Daddy Party. But like many families, it turns out that Daddy plays the big boss while never doing anything useful, while it's actually Mommy who makes sure dinner is made and kids are put to bed on time. That is until Mommy gets sick of it all and files for divorce — which is why women are far more likely to initiate divorce than men.

Republicans can put their big boy pants on, instead of acting like toddlers careening around with their Democratic mommies chasing after to keep them from hurting themselves. Republicans have been able to avoid the political costs of their feckless behavior for decades, in no small part because Democrats have been effective at stemming the bleeding from bad GOP choices. Hell, Republicans elected Trump, secure in the belief that however badly he broke things, a Democrat would eventually step in to repair it. It's good Democrats are finally setting a boundary. If Republicans don't learn about consequences, how will they ever grow up?