Republicans’ Internecine Conflict Is Mirrored in Conservative Media
William F. Buckley Jr., a founder of National Review, once famously described a conservative as “someone who stands athwart history, yelling ‘Stop!’ at a time when no one is inclined to do so.”
“Stop!” is what many commentators have been shouting this week in the once-mighty organs of conservative media like National Review, imploring Republicans to resolve the acrimonious infighting that has paralyzed the House of Representatives for three consecutive days.
“Sorry” and “performative” is how the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal described the far-right revolt against Representative Kevin McCarthy’s bid to become speaker.
“An embarrassing spectacle,” National Review called it in an editorial.
Sean Hannity of Fox News scolded one of Mr. McCarthy’s loudest antagonists, Representative Lauren Boebert of Colorado, on his prime time program on Wednesday, asking, “Isn’t it time for you to pack it in?”
“The bottom line is you still only have 20 votes,” Mr. Hannity told Ms. Boebert as he interviewed her. He said that the resistance was counterproductive and futile. All that Ms. Boebert and her allies were proving, Mr. Hannity said, was that “20 people don’t want Kevin McCarthy at this time.”
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But there was little evidence that any of this criticism was having its intended effect and easing tensions in the latest skirmish in the G.O.P. civil war. Instead, the disapproval of the far-right rebellion — coming mainly from more traditional conservatives — seemed like a rerun of the internecine conflicts that played out during Donald J. Trump’s rise to power.
Indeed, some of the most influential voices in conservative media were rooting for the Republicans opposing Mr. McCarthy. They included Mr. Hannity’s Fox News colleague, Tucker Carlson.
“The fun never stops,” Mr. Carlson said as he opened his 8 p.m. program on Tuesday evening. Mr. Carlson echoed the claims of those like Ms. Boebert, who have insisted that the disputed speaker’s election is a healthy and natural part of the democratic process. It was not, as Mr. Carlson described the alternative, a “Soviet-style” fait accompli “made years in advance by donors.”
Mr. Carlson urged Mr. McCarthy to give in and accept the demands his opponents were making.
“This cannot continue. It is poison, and Kevin McCarthy is uniquely situated right now to stop it,” the host said. “So, by striking a deal with his 20 colleagues, McCarthy could restore our system to health and at the very same time get the job he has always wanted. It’s not so complicated.”
Mr. Carlson, a regular critic of Republican Party leadership in Washington — Mr. McCarthy was first elected to Congress in 2006 and later served as a top lieutenant to two speakers — was not alone among conservatives in encouraging the uprising. Some, including Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, made comparisons between today’s unrest and the Tea Party movement.
“This fight has been brewing for 10 years, since the Tea Party revolt in 2010,” Mr. Bannon said on his “War Room” podcast. Mr. Bannon endorsed an idea that has been circulating in some conservative media circles lately: electing Mr. Trump as speaker.
“Would you not rather have Trump leading the negotiation on the debt ceiling and the spending than some of these people?” he asked. The Constitution does not require the speaker be an elected member of Congress.
The split between the agitators and the peacemakers belied a longtime alliance that had united the fractious wings of the G.O.P. Even if many Republican officials in Washington and high-profile conservative media personalities privately disparaged their party’s most restive elements, they saw the insurgency as politically and financially advantageous.
For conservative media and its stars, the alliance has been highly profitable. Few did more to fuel the Tea Party rebellion in the early 2010s than Fox News, which hired stars of the movement like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck and paid them millions to secure their exclusivity on cable.
But on Fox News this week, many commentators, hosts and guests have preached the party unity that was antithetical to the Tea Party. And some conservatives found themselves in the awkward position of opposing the kind of political chaos they had once cheered.
In an interview on Fox on Wednesday, Representative-elect Mike Lawler of New York, a Republican, said his rebelling colleagues were selfish.
“They have put themselves above everything else and are costing conservatives across this country dearly,” Mr. Lawler told the network. “They need to get serious, wake up and realize that we are not rolling over. There are over 200 of us who support Kevin McCarthy, and we will support him on every single vote.”
In his interview with Ms. Boebert, Mr. Hannity, who was once reprimanded by Fox News executives for agreeing to headline a Tea Party rally, seemed at times to be at the end of his patience. He pressed the congresswoman — in a way he rarely does with fellow conservatives — to say whom she would support for speaker.
“Who do you want?” he asked. “It’s not that hard.”