Syndicated columnist Debra J. Saunders: Elon Musk for House speaker

By Debra J. Saunders

RINO stands for Republican in Name Only, although lately the term means something far different from a Republican who votes like a Democrat. For many in the pro-Trump base, it seems, RINO is a Republican who can win elections. Like that's a bad thing.

Now apparently, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy - the man most likely to be speaker when the House votes on Jan. 3 - is a RINO.

McCarthy opposes abortion rights, voted to abolish Obamacare and is a 2020 election denier whom former President Donald Trump dubbed "my Kevin." Nonetheless, Rep. Andy Biggs, an Arizona Republican, is running for speaker because, Biggs argues, McCarthy is a "RINO establishment hack." Since his days as a California state lawmaker, McCarthy has morphed from a pragmatic conservative to a faithful Trump lieutenant. Still, that's not good enough for the loser wing of the GOP.

Biggs is one of five Republicans who have pledged not to vote for McCarthy. I don't see how anyone who can count expects a rump of five to move the 435-member House - with 222 Republicans and 213 Democrats - further to the right. And yet, that is the dream.

"If you're going to call Kevin McCarthy a RINO, you're essentially calling the vast majority (of Republicans RINOs)," Mark B. Harkins, senior fellow with the Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University, observed. He added, "It's a term that's lost its meaning because of its misuse."

Harkins told me there are only two reasons why the GOP Five would oppose McCarthy - either they truly believe he is not up to the job, or they think they can squeeze concessions from him.

The most likely beneficiary of their hostage-taking is Rep. Steve Scalise, the affable Louisiana congressman who was shot by a left-wing activist during a congressional charity baseball practice in 2017. Scalise, the No. 2 guy in House GOP leadership, has pledged his support for McCarthy, but he has not said if he would refuse the helm through repeated voting to choose who wields the gavel.

If McCarthy doesn't claim the majority after inconclusive counts, Harkins speculated, it is conceivable the GOP top dog would step aside in favor of Scalise. One thing that seems obvious: Biggs, who garnered a modest 31 votes to McCarthy's 188 when the House Republican conference voted in November, will not be the next speaker.

It's important to remember that Democrats control the Senate and White House. So it's not as if the GOP wish list is likely to advance, unless the leadership cuts deals.

I should note that the next speaker need not be a Republican, or even a member of the House.

So at this point, Harkins quipped, "Bring on Elon Musk, what the hell."

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