First: The fact that Kevin McCarthy was ousted with the motion to vacate was not a huge surprise. The huge surprise was that within less than two hours of the vote he threw in the towel and effectively ended not only his Speakership but his political career. It’s still not clear to me whether he had key conversations during that short interlude that told him it was hopeless or that, at a basic level, he simply didn’t have the fight in him. By all accounts it was a total stunner for basically everyone in the Tuesday evening conference meeting.
Second: After the his ouster McCarthy claimed that Nancy Pelosi had lied to him, that she had promised to back him if House hardliners tried to topple him. More broadly he blamed Democrats for not backing him up in the interests of the House as an institution. Given the notoriously bad relationship between the two now-former Speakers, McCarthy’s claim is difficult to credit. But McCarthy’s claim – what amounts to what in legal terms is called an ‘excited utterance’ – suggests that he really was expecting Democratic backing at the final moment.
Three: Point two suggests a possible explanation lurking behind point one. On Monday night McCarthy was full of taunts and swagger. He went on Twitter to tell Matt Gaetz to “bring it on.” Indeed, Gaetz had spent the latter part of Monday equivocating. But by mid-morning Tuesday something seemed to shift. McCarthy seemed resigned to defeat on the motion to vacate, if not in the larger fight to save his Speakership. That shift at least broader aligns with the Tuesday morning Democratic caucus meeting which ended in a definitive announcement that all Democrats would vote against McCarthy. Certainly many things were happening in those critical hours. So the coincidence of timing by no means proves the two events were linked. But it’s worth considering.