|This year has started out with a bang, inaugurated by a series of profound and peculiar news cycles. Like so many, I watched in horror as Damar Hamlin was removed from the football field in Cincinnati via ambulance on Monday evening while his teammates openly wept and ESPN’s broadcasters helped articulate our collective grief. (Blessedly, Hamlin seems to be making strides of improvement.)
Meanwhile, the next day a seemingly bemused and bewildered, though slightly less disheveled, Sam Bankman-Fried pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan courtroom before being whisked back to Palo Alto for his home confinement and Michael Lewis confabs. (Notably, the public curiosity about S.B.F. has largely inured him from the invective rained down upon Madoff during his perpwalking days.) And then there was the Tesla stock sell-off, fears about China’s economy, and more layoffs at corporate behemoths like Amazon and Salesforce.
Yet the most bizarre and confounding story of this young year has clearly been the telenovela that played out on Capitol Hill this week: Kevin McCarthy’s Sisyphean attempt to ascend to the Speaker’s office over the protestations of his objectionists, the saboteurs as they’ve amusingly been coined, the hardest core homies of the so-called “Taliban Twenty.” During vote after vote, McCarthy sat calmly in the chamber, like a seasoned flier trying to hold their nerve while piloting through a storm. On some level, it was admirable to behold. On another, however, it was utterly baffling and largely confirmed a public narrative about McCarthy as a power-addicted narcissist with great hair.
McCarthy is the ultimate Washington creature—smooth, ubiquitous, omniscient, careful, image-conscious and ambitious. And it’s a testament to his high standing in establishment circles that his coronation was presumed to be a fait accompli. For weeks, some of the most respected media companies have treated his MAGA nemeses as backbench mosquitoes who would just be swatted away and fall into line, either seduced by concessions or fearful that they would lose a critical purse-controlling ally.
All along, however, my partners Tara Palmeri and Tina Nguyen were reporting that this was an epic misreading of the situation. For weeks, Tara reported on McCarthy’s feckless effort to whip votes, and she surfaced the possibility that his deputy, Steve Scalise, might surreptitiously arrive to save the day. (The Scalise-McCarthy relationship is multi-layered.)
Tina, meanwhile, was working her sources on the ground in MAGAworld and coming to the same conclusion: these members hated McCarthy’s guts. Many were pissed about how he’d thrown money behind their primary challengers, and many more were furious that he had (momentarily and, with obvious rationale) turned on Trump after January 6th. No one, Tina reiterated to me, was going to tuck them in. Or at least the most ardent among them, who are incentivized to demonstrate to their constituents that they played a hand in a historic establishment humiliation. They saw around corners. McCarthy, who only won in the 15th round, was in for a bigger fight than even he realized. And it didn’t matter if he felt he deserved the job, as he unwisely conveyed behind closed doors with his conference earlier this week. This, truly, was the plot that only the insiders knew.
This week, Puck proudly debuted a new editorial product that we couldn’t be more thrilled about, especially given the momentous timing. The Best & The Brightest is a new Monday-Thursday evening private email that will bring readers closer than ever to what’s really going on in the nation’s capital. On Mondays and Thursdays, Tara will dig up the inside story in the White House, on the Hill, and K Street. On Tuesday, the brilliant Julia Ioffe will uncover the anxieties and fixations of the permanent class, in addition to her industry-leading coverage of the war in Ukraine. On Wednesday, Tina Nguyen will reflect on the mind-bending contortions of the party in power (see above). The peerless Peter Hamby will also be contributing regularly.
I’ve long been fascinated by how the sausage gets made in Washington—in particular the delta between the bromides espoused by its leading lights in public and on cable versus the private conversations they have in congressional offices, the Delta lounge, and Cafe Milano. In fact, for all his sins, McCarthy actually exposed this jarring juxtaposition during an infamous segment on Fox News, years ago, when he admitted that the whole Benghazi hearing affair was an elaborate contrivance to throw a monkey wrench in the Hillary Clinton machine.
At Puck, we’re laser focused on saying the quiet part out loud, which allows us to offer the sort of unique and elevated journalism that you won’t find elsewhere. In particular, in the wake of the voteghazi fallout, I’d turn your attention to Tara, Julia, and Tina’s work from this week. We Need to Talk About Kevin perfectly elucidated the establishment G.O.P.’s delusion about McCarthy. The War of Boebert Aggression succinctly captured the geopolitical dimension. McCarthy’s Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a masterstroke from Tina, narrated just how insurmountable the challenge had become—leaving McCarthy to take over the store after already having sold off all its goods. It’s the story of our time, and precisely the sort of tale you can only find at Puck. Sign up for The Best & The Brightest here.
Have a great weekend,