The televised debate to be the next speaker of the House of Representatives is off—for now.
On Friday, only hours after speaker candidates Steve Scalise, Jim Jordan, and Kevin Hern apparently agreed to a live, televised debate on Fox News, all three backed out. It’s not entirely clear why the trio suddenly decided to cancel the debate, but it’s likely that it was the result of an entirely warranted freakout from their caucus’s more moderate members: A televised debate for the speakership was a monumentally stupid idea, one that would have made the already difficult job nearly impossible to do.
House Republicans have never been more ungovernable than they are now. On Tuesday, Matt Gaetz and seven confederates managed to oust Kevin McCarthy from his job as speaker, which he had held for less than nine months. Their objections basically boiled down to McCarthy failing to do every single thing they asked him to—even though many of those things either lacked the votes to pass or would have literally shut down the government for an indefinite period of time.
Speaker of the House may be the worst job in America, and yet the race to fill it is growing more crowded. Steve Scalise—a Louisiana Republican who once boasted he was “David Duke without the baggage”—is probably the front-runner; a longtime member of party leadership, he has the type of deep connections within his caucus that are necessary to run the show. Jim Jordan, a loudmouthed, bomb-throwing, Fox News favorite, is the candidate of the insurgents; he has the support of Donald Trump and much of right-wing media, where he is a mainstay.
Normally, the way these races unfold is fairly simple: Candidates make their case to the members of their caucus that they are the most effective person to lead the chamber. In some cases, deals are made—such a deal with Gaetz and his allies was ultimately what doomed McCarthy’s speakership. But this is not a normal Republican Party or a normal race for speaker. As such, the candidates hatched a plan: What if they debated the job, live on Fox News?
This was, to put it lightly, a self-defeating idea. A debate for speaker would force each candidate into grandstanding and promises that would arguably make whipping votes and bringing bills to the floor impossible. McCarthy’s speakership was just ended in part because of Gaetz’s ability to wield the kind of naked, fantastical partisanship represented by Fox News as a cudgel. A debate would accomplish nothing, but it would virtually guarantee that the kind of dysfunction we have seen over the past week would play out indefinitely. (It also made little sense from Scalise’s perspective, given that Jordan is far better suited for a Fox News debate.)
In any case, the candidates came to their senses: A few hours after the debate was announced, it was reported by multiple outlets that all parties had reconsidered. It still isn’t clear how the race for speaker will play out. It is still very likely that whoever becomes speaker will have many of the same problems McCarthy did. But one thing is certain: Whatever happens, it won’t be televised.