Kevin McCarthy stood behind the rostrum and raised the speaker’s gavel. Four days and fifteen votes that ultimately resulted in his election as speaker had left him with a smile that was part bewilderment, part exhaustion.

Bewilderment in that McCarthy’s mismanagement of Republicans’ efforts to retake the House meant he probably should not have been poised to hoist the gavel. In the 2022 midterms, McCarthy spent most of the House Republicans’ war chest on liberal Republican candidates and intentionally undercut more conservative alternatives. The end result was not 40 more Republican seats, as some McCarthy allies suggested, but a razor thin, four-seat majority.

Exhaustion in that a small number of Republicans, staunch conservatives such as Reps. Chip Roy of Texas, Dan Bishop of North Carolina, and Matt Gaetz of Florida saw McCarthy’s clear and abundant failures and sought to hold the Republican leader accountable. There would be no red carpet, no giving the speakership to McCarthy on a silver platter just because he’s the House GOP’s frontman. They would not allow a repeat of the last session’s failures, and rightly so. If McCarthy ever wanted to become Speaker of the House, he’d have to fiercely negotiate with his objectors, a group that came to be known as “the twenty,” and make concessions that have the potential to change the way Washington goes about its business and serve as a check on the speaker’s power.

And concessions they got. But Rep. Scott Perry, chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, doesn’t think of the changes extracted from future Speaker McCarthy as concessions. “I see them as wins,” Perry told The American Conservative, “not only for the Republican conference, but for Congress, and, most importantly, for the little guy and gal out there that doesn’t ever come to Washington, D.C., and vote on the floor. These are wins for all of us.”

Stay up to date with us


Get weekly Canon roundups straight to your inbox