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In this edition: The House GOP rebels make a new media, Alabama gets a new congressional map, and Ne͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌  ͏‌ 
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October 6, 2023


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David Weigel

How Matt Gaetz bypassed Fox to pull of the first speaker coup in history

Win McNamee/Getty Images


The revolution was televised — and streamed on Spaces, the live chat portal on X, which Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz kept joining to talk about ending Kevin McCarthy’s speakership.

“What do people think is going on right now?” Gaetz asked on a Tuesday night forum co-hosted by Elon Musk (Parody), with more than a million followers, and Not Jerome Powell, with nearly 380,000. “Because I’ve seen some criticism; I’ve seen some people celebrate. I don’t know that either of those are necessarily warranted.”

“This is basically a clear-cut example of accountability,” said Shawn Farash (147,000 followers), a Nashville-based commentator who’d once shown his Donald Trump impression to Trump himself. A reporter named Nick Sorter (275,000 followers) asked if McCarthy had been “too weak” to keep the governing deal he’d made with Gaetz and other rebels in January.

“I don’t think he felt like he had to,” said Gaetz. “I think that once he entered the speaker’s office, the experience in January was insufficient to really change his thinking about the imperial speakership — the speakership that he had dreamt about, and thought about, and legitimately worked very hard for, for 13 years.”

In traditional media, and the longest-lived conservative media, the first-ever removal of a House Speaker by his own party has been covered as a debacle. Fox News hosts have scornfully cross-examined the eight Republicans who sunk McCarthy; “Do you feel good about your vote?” anchor Brian Kilmeade asked Tennessee Rep. Tim Burchett.

But the vote that empowered Gaetz empowered the new conservative media, too, becoming the latest in a decade-long run of stories about Republican leaders underestimating their insurgents. On One America News, Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs condemned the “uniparty” of Democrats and Republicans who’d funded the government without deep cuts; on Steve Bannon’s “War Room,” Biggs and other conservatives who’d deposed McCarthy were saving the country from weak, unserious party leaders.

“I’m hearing from my sources that Kevin McCarthy, and that team around him, personally held back oversight,” Bannon told Gaetz and South Carolina Rep. Nancy Mace on Wednesday, during a joint visit to his studio on Wednesday. “This is the reason we don’t have subpoenas.”

By Friday morning, reports had emerged that Fox News would host the major speaker candidates for a debate. The reaction was instantly negative from House Republicans, who were exhausted by the role the media was playing in their internal arguments. Candidates began dropping out, leading the network to cancel its event.

But when it comes to McCarthy’s removal — and the fate of his replacement — Fox News may be the least of their problems.


Conservative media is always skeptical of dealmaking with Democrats, to varying degrees. But the schism within conservative media over McCarthy also showed how even the fundamentals of running a party operation could be turned against its leaders.

In the mainstream and older conservative media, McCarthy’s prolific fundraising — he raked in more than $260 million to help Republicans win the House in 2022, including some of the members who ousted him — was one of his chief strengths. Among the newer MAGA personalities, it was a source of deep suspicion and resentment.

The latter ecosystem has grown in influence and audience since Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter, which he renamed X; Laura Loomer, an activist banned from the site for much of the Trump presidency, was reinstated last year, and kept her nearly 600,000 followers informed of the donations McCarthy was routing to Republicans like Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert, implying that he was buying off support to keep his job.

“It doesn’t take a seasoned political strategist to see that Kevin McCarthy is a liar,” Loomer told Semafor. “You have all these different podcasts, you have all these different independent publications, interviewing members of Congress and bypassing the mainstream media.”

Gaetz encouraged this perception that his opponents were bought off, telling booing Republicans on the House floor to “keep showing up at the lobbyist fundraisers and see how that goes for you.” He later tweeted that he’d negotiate away his demand to let any member call a snap no-confidence vote on the speaker if they adopted a plan by California Congressman Ro Khanna to restrict money in politics and block stock trading by members. That Khanna is a progressive Democrat didn’t matter — Gaetz’s followers were primed to recognize the establishment “uniparty” was the problem here, not partisan labels.

After Gaetz’s gambit against McCarthy succeeded, his many enemies inside the GOP conference went to mainstream media outlets to denounce him. Gaetz isn’t allergic to that; Republicans have vented all week about outlets giving him so much time when they should be skeptical of what he’s saying. “You all know Matt Gaetz,” McCarthy said, sourly, at the press conference where he confirmed that he wouldn’t try to get the gavel back.

But Gaetz and the rest of the GOP’s rebels kept up a direct line of communication with conservative activists and influencers, who could not be mollified by McCarthy. Not by the impeachment inquiry, which Gaetz and Bannon agreed was set up to fail; not by the threat of retaliation, which they relished, after a 2022 cycle when Republicans who’d defied Trump and voted to impeach him were nearly wiped out. (The two Republicans who voted for impeachment and remain in the House come from states with all-party primaries, not states where only GOP primary voters decide who’s nominated.)

“Rep. Gaetz has always been more in tune with younger audiences, and good with social media, and he often hops on X Spaces with the public,” said Alex Lorusso, who posts across different social media networks as ALX — and was restored to Twitter/X last year after a lengthy ban. “I would describe most of the online action as encouraging him to file the motion to vacate, rather than him having to build support… Republicans will be doing next week what I believe they should have done from the beginning.”


Stu Stevens, an anti-Trump GOP strategist who’ll publish “The Conspiracy to End America” next week, said that “the media has followed the party” as it’s moved in Trump’s direction. The medium, old or new, mattered less than the political actors, and the voters who nominated them.

“Fox didn’t want John McCain to win the primary. They didn’t want Mitt Romney to win. They didn’t want Trump to win,” Stevens said. “If Jeb Bush had won the primary in 2016, Fox News would have been behind him 100%. You saw this very starkly when we got the emails and text from inside Fox News in the Dominion lawsuit — they were worried that they were losing market share to Newsmax.”


  • In the New York Times, Annie Karni spends some quality time with Steve Bannon, who’s “capitalizing on the spectacle to build his own following and using his popular podcast to prop up and egg on the G.O.P. rebels.”
  • In the Washington Post, Paul Kane looks back at the compromises that cost McCarthy his job: “He regularly forced swing-district Republicans, including 18 of whom hail from districts that favored Biden in 2000, to vote for legislation that had no chance of becoming law and, in some cases, still did not mollify the far right and lost on the House floor.”
State of Play

Alabama. A three-judge panel selected the state’s new congressional map on Thursday, re-shaping the 2nd District into a majority-Black seat that backed Joe Biden in 2020. (It went for Sen. Doug Jones, the best-performing Democrat on the ballot that year, by 17 points.) According to the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman, the revision “virtually guarantees” a Democratic flip next year.

Iowa. Democrats were on track to make Iowa a Super Tuesday state after the state party submitted that plan to the DNC. While state party chair Rita Hart told the committee that Iowa would “compete strongly for a significant voice” in future races, the 2024 plan sends “preference cards” to voters in January, with the results released on March 5. Republicans are still holding their caucuses on Jan. 15.

Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights/YouTube

Americans for Tax Reform, “Gaetz.” Grover Norquist’s anti-tax group was the first to go after Gaetz once he succeeded in ousting Kevin McCarthy. In a six-figure buy, hitting Florida and D.C., ATR tells conservatives that Gaetz only ended up “killing the Republican plan to cut spending and strengthen the border” by siding with the right’s greatest villains, “Nancy Pelosi and AOC.”

Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, “Judgment.” Last month, the coalition supporting Ohio’s abortion rights amendment caught flack for using Catholic imagery in a commercial. This spot avoids any controversy by handing the microphone to a United Church of Christ reverend, whose denomination supports abortion rights. Rev. Tim Ahrens quotes Luke 6:37, says that he’s counseled “families” on abortion, and offers his take: The government should stay out of it.

George Logan for Congress, “My 2024 Announcement.” In 2022, Republican George Logan lost the race for Connecticut’s most competitive House seat by 2000 votes. Things are worse now, he says, an argument dramatized by government agents showing up to seize belongings from his elderly mother (the star of his 2022 ads): her gas stove, light bulbs, and washing machine. Headlines about proposed and implemented regulations flash across the screen.


Every New Hampshire poll since the first Republican primary debate has found the same trend: Ron DeSantis shedding support and Nikki Haley picking it up. Every poll has pointed toward the same reasons, too, as the most conservative voters in the electorate stick with Trump and moderates sour on DeSantis. Just 22% of primary voters, and 27% of Republicans, support an abortion ban starting after six weeks of pregnancy, which DeSantis signed this year. (Support is even lower among independents who can cross over to the GOP race.) Just 4% call this their top issue.

The two South Carolinians in this primary are betting a lot on their home state. Both Haley and Tim Scott want to survive the Iowa caucuses, watch the field shrink, and get a one-on-one contest with Trump in their backyard. Haley’s running ahead of Scott in all three early states, but both are popular with South Carolina Republicans. Three out of four view Haley favorably, and 72% approve of the job Scott is doing in the Senate. Their challenge: Republicans think even better of Trump.

Pennsylvania’s senior senator has won three races by wide margins — 17 points, 9 points, and 13 points. McCormick, who scared off any potential primary challengers before entering the race, starts off with 89% of the GOP vote, and ties Casey with independents; the senator carried those voters by 21 points in 2018. But Casey still runs ahead of the Democratic ticket. In 2012, he out-paced Barack Obama by 2 points; he runs six points ahead of Joe Biden here.

ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images

White House. Donald Trump’s campaign claimed to have raised $45.5 million in the third quarter of 2023, tripling Ron DeSantis — whose campaign described its $15 million total as fuel for a comeback.

“This significant fundraising haul not only provides us with the resources we need in the fight for Iowa and beyond,” campaign manager James Uthmeier said in a statement, “but it also shuts down the doubters who counted out Ron DeSantis for far too long.”

The doubters weren’t convinced. Trump’s fundraising picked up since the campaign’s second quarter, when his committees raised a total of $35 million. DeSantis’s fundraising had declined.

On Thursday, Cornel West announced that he’d seek the presidency as an independent, ending his bid for the Green Party’s nomination. West, who first spoke to Semafor about his campaign in June, got into the race as the candidate of the People’s Party, founded by disgruntled veterans of the 2016 Bernie Sanders campaign; within two weeks, he had switched to run as a Green, telling podcaster Katie Halper that “when it comes to infrastructure and institution, it’s much broader and deeper, access to the ballot much broader.”

Asked about this latest switch, West texted: “It is hard for a jazz man like me to play only in a party band! The people’s needs have primacy over any party!”

But the ballot access issue remains. The Greens started the cycle with ballot lines in the District of Columbia and 17 states — including Maine, Michigan, and Wisconsin, which were heavily contested in the last two elections. In a statement, the party’s steering committee said it was “surprised” but “deeply appreciate[d] the significant resources that the West campaign has already invested toward securing our party’s ballot lines.”

Senate. Kari Lake filed to run against independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema on Tuesday, with an official launch event to follow next week. She’ll join Pinal County Sheriff Mark Lamb in the GOP primary, and preempt any plans by defeated 2022 U.S. Senate nominee Blake Masters. And she confronted Rep. Ruben Gallego, the Democrat running against Sinema, when the two of them wound up on the same D.C.-to-Phoenix flight — starting with a tweet exchange and continuing after Lake micced up and a camera recorded them.

According to Gallego, Lake didn’t publish the full exchange, cutting a moment when he asked why Arizona Republicans ran the table in House races but she couldn’t beat Gov. Katie Hobbs. What got published: Three-and-a-half minutes of Gallego telling her they should work together on border security, and Lake saying she’d beat him instead.

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

New York Rep. Mike Lawler won narrowly in 2022, supported Kevin McCarthy for speaker, then watched with disgust as Matt Gaetz and other GOP rebels worked to get rid of him. He’s called for Gaetz to be kicked out of the conference altogether, and talked about that with Americana – as he condemned former Rep. Mondaire Jones, who’s running in the Democratic primary to challenge him, for a tweet calling a meeting with McCarthy, Lawler, and Orthodox Jewish leaders a “waste of time” in the wake of the ouster.

AMERICANA: You want to get rid of the single-member motion to vacate in the House. Is that the majority sentiment with your colleagues right now?

MIKE LAWLER: There’s a consensus among my colleagues that the next speaker should never have a gun to their head like that ever again. I think that is one of the issues that needs to be resolved as part of anyone receiving 218 votes for speaker.

Look, I believe there needs to be accountability for the actions of a select few here, who teamed with 208 Democrats to remove a duly elected Republican Speaker. This is not voting on policy or legislation that’s important to your district. This is teaming up with Democrats to undermine the House Republican majority. That’s a very big difference. And I think there needs to be accountability on that. I personally believe that Matt Gaetz needs to be kicked out of the conference and stripped of his committee assignments.

AMERICANA: Democrats voting in lockstep obviously sealed this. But looking back 72 hours, is there something McCarthy could have done, to offer to Democrats, to prevent it?

MIKE LAWLER: Democrats voted with Matt Gaetz to give themselves what they viewed as a political advantage. What they did was join with Matt Gaetz to burn the house down. Frankly, they should be ashamed of themselves for participating in this. They can act like, “oh, it’s not our job to save Kevin McCarthy.” No, it’s not. But it’s also not your job to join forces with Matt Gaetz and do this. They can’t act like they have clean hands here.

AMERICANA: But is there something that McCarthy could have offered, like Ukraine funding, that would have staved this off?

MIKE LAWLER: Listen, what is there to offer? That was kind of Kevin’s point. Anything he may have offered them probably would have cost him more votes on the right, so it was an untenable situation. Hakeem Jeffries chose to put politics over the country by joining forces with the very, “MAGA Republicans” that he decries on a daily basis.

AMERICANA: What’s actually changing for your constituents right now, because there’s no speaker? If this is chaos, how is the chaos trickling down to them?

MIKE LAWLER: Most Americans think our country is headed in the wrong direction, and a lot of it is fueled by their distrust in government. This obviously plays into that — the chaos and the dysfunction. How do we get back to a place where we’re focused on the issues impacting your average American? The longer this drags on, obviously, it’s a big problem.

AMERICANA: You criticized Mondaire Jones for a tweet making fun of McCarthy for meeting with Hasidic Jewish leaders in your district. He took that down and said it was misinterpreted. What’s your take on that?

MIKE LAWLER: It just speaks volumes on his hyper partisanship, and on the antisemitism that has plagued the Democratic Party. The idea that he would post a picture of the speaker and I meeting with Orthodox Jewish constituents and say, “Well, that was a waste of time.” Even if you’re being flip about it, why pick on them? He’s in lockstep with the squad, who clearly have antisemitic views and values that they espouse on a daily basis.

AMERICANA: Is Jones an antisemite?

MIKE LAWLER: I think he tries to hide, as best he can, his true feelings, but I think he – I think he kind of revealed them with his tweet.

[“The fact is, I am proud of my extensive record combating antisemitism and advocating for our diverse Jewish communities in Congress and after Congress,” Jones responded in a text. He also pointed back to a controversy over a 2019 local Republican Party video that attacked the Orthodox community in the district — which Lawler publicly condemned and denied any role in producing — and said that Lawler worked to “elect and re-elect an antisemite” by supporting Donald Trump.]

AMERICANA: What else should be done about the Republicans who ousted McCarthy?

MIKE LAWLER: Obviously, there’s going to have to be a reckoning within the conference. This was not an issue of policy differences. This was an issue of personality. It was an issue of ego. It was an issue of politics. And the fact that these eight folks lined up with 208 Democrats to remove the speaker, instead of working through the conference to deal with this – I think that speaks volumes. If you’re unwilling to work inside the conference to deal with an internal matter, and you go to Democrats to get the votes needed, why should the conference work with you?

AMERICANA: How will history remember Kevin McCarthy?

MIKE LAWLER: Well, listen: I think Kevin McCarthy has done a phenomenal job as speaker, as leader of the conference. I think he negotiated a debt ceiling deal that produced the biggest cost savings in American history. He fought to keep the government open, and lost his job over it. In the end, he’ll be remembered for doing right by the American people and fighting for the American people. History will judge him kindly.

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