Matt Gaetz has far more to lose than Kevin McCarthy in their escalating attempt at taking each other down

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In the fallout from this past weekend’s continuing resolution to keep the government open, Matt Gaetz and Kevin McCarthy are now trying to take it out on each other. Gaetz’s threats against McCarthy are getting most of the attention, because Gaetz is running his mouth for the cameras in the process. But McCarthy’s threats against Gaetz are more likely to be the most devastating.

Gaetz may be able to oust McCarthy from the Speaker role, simply because it would only require six House Republicans (and all House Democrats). But McCarthy’s allies have already leaked to the media that they intend to immediately expel Gaetz if and when the House Ethics Committee returns a negative report about him (which given that they control that committee, could happen whenever they want it to happen). If Gaetz goes through with forcing a vote to remove McCarthy, then McCarthy’s allies will almost certainly expel Gaetz in response, right?

So who has more to lose here? McCarthy could certainly lose his Speakership. He’d become even more of a punchline than ever. But he’d safely retain his House seat, and might even be in line to become House Minority Leader in 2024. Contrast that with Gaetz, whose expulsion would be the end of his political career. Yes, he keeps leaking that he might run for Governor of Florida. But even Florida isn’t so far gone as to elect a Governor who just got expelled from the House for underage sex trafficking. Gaetz is already a pariah outside of his far right district, and would likely lose a Republican primary race for Governor badly.

So while McCarthy might get knocked down several rungs in this feud, it’s Gaetz who stands to lose everything. If he loses his House seat, he’ll spend the rest of his life being an embittered podcaster (no offense to podcasts) who wonders where it all went wrong for him.

Yet because Gaetz is waging his war against McCarthy publicly with his mouth, while McCarthy is simply lining up the votes for a Gaetz expulsion behind the scenes, most commentators are framing this as Gaetz having a magic wand. The media hype is almost entirely about what Gaetz is going to do to McCarthy, with little to no mention of the fact that Gaetz would be ending his political career if he goes through with this.

That’s not surprising. The mainstream political media always acts as if the politicians running their mouths are the ones with the most power and influence, because that kind of portrayal is best for ratings. But as we just saw with the shutdown battle, the politicians running their mouths the most loudly in public are typically doing so because they’re not getting their way behind the scenes.

McCarthy and Gaetz could still both back down from their threats and call it a truce for now. They’re both weak in that way, so it wouldn’t be shocking to see this all end up simmering down and going nowhere. But if Gaetz does continue to force this to be a battle, he’s the one who has the most to lose. By far. The only question is whether Gaetz is doing this because he mistakenly thinks he’s invincible, or because he thinks he’s getting expelled no matter what and wants to go down in a blaze of glory. We’ll see. But the media has it completely wrong by portraying Gaetz as being the one in position of power. It couldn’t be more the opposite.

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