The House Is A Circus (But Don’t Blame The Real Clowns)


I grew up in a city that featured the Peru Amateur Circus. I played trumpet in the circus band, my younger sister was an aerialist. I knew the first human cannonball, W.W. Wilno, and went to school with the granddaughter of famed lion tamer and circus mogul Clyde Beatty.

And I knew my clowns. The famed tramp clown, Emmett Kelly, was part of the Hagenbeck-Wallace circuses that wintered along the Wabash and Mississinewa rivers in the mid-20th Century. His son, Patrick, took his father’s “Weary Willie” persona into the Peru circus. One of my family physicians was Dr. Lloyd Hill, who played a hobo clown in the Peru circus for years. These were all accomplished men and performers.

Earlier this week, I wrote a State Affairs column titled “House of Clowns,” my take on the disposal of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy after just 269 days in that office. He assumed the third-highest constitutional office in the U.S. on the 15th ballot. He was the first speaker to be kicked out of office, with eight Republicans joining 208 Democrats to seal his fate after Republican U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida ignited the fateful “motion to vacate.”

All seven Hoosier Republicans voted against this historic motion to vacate while Democrat Reps. André Carson and Frank Mrvan joined their unified caucus to accede to McCarthy’s downfall.

Thus, beltway pundits have been invoking images of “clown cars” and “clowns with flamethrowers” in describing what the Wall Street Journal editorial board has characterized as the “degraded state of the Republican Party in this era of rage.”

What is happening in the U.S. House is an affront to real clowns.

The seeds of McCarthy’s demise were planted after the 14th ballot last January. U.S. Rep. Erin Houchin, who is president of the freshman GOP class and at the House leadership table, told me in August that after McCarthy failed on the 14th ballot, “There was one thing that came up at the end, which was how to vacate the chair. We had toyed with 20 members or five members. Ultimately it went back to one.”

That was a fateful decision, with historic impacts to be determined.

On Tuesday, Houchin could be seen on the House floor, huddling with McCarthy lieutenants as he went down. She later posted on X a Gaetz fundraising appeal. “This tells you all you need to know about Matt Gaetz … literally fundraising from a manufactured crisis of his own making,” Houchin said. “No one is working with Dems to expel him. He is the one working with Dems. Don’t be duped.”

U.S. Rep. Larry Bucshon was also unamused. He called Gaetz “a charlatan” for “threatening to remove Speaker McCarthy using at least 200 Democratic votes. He has been reaching out to them for votes! Is the hypocrisy lost on anyone? At least 200 House [Republicans] will be voting to support the speaker, including me.”

At a town hall two weeks ago in Westfield as a government shutdown loomed, U.S. Rep. Victoria Spartz predicted McCarthy’s demise. “I was ultimately frustrated by my speaker,” she said. “We Republicans in the House have to take responsibility. Washington, D.C., has been governed, not by leadership but by crisis, for a very, very long time. Unfortunately, it’s a very bad way to govern. This is probably going to be the end of Kevin. This is just politics and Democrats probably have the winning hand by now.”

As this drama reached its crescendo, Spartz threatened to resign, saying, “I will not continue sacrificing my children for this circus with a complete absence of leadership, vision, and spine. I cannot save this Republic alone.”

This circus, eh?

As McCarthy exited, announcing he wouldn’t seek a return to the office he was just shoved out of, he said with a straight face, “I may have lost this vote today, but as I walk out of this chamber I feel fortunate to have served. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

Really, Kevin, really?

What’s just over the horizon could be epic anarchy.

Fox News host Sean Hannity, MAGA influencer Steve Bannon and several congressmen have floated the idea of “drafting” former President Donald J. Trump for the role. “I have been told that Trump might be open to helping the Republican Party, at least in the short term, if necessary,” Hannity dutifully reported during his show Tuesday night.

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a once fringe member of the radical GOP who became an elevated McCarthy ally, said on X, “The only candidate for speaker I am currently supporting is President Trump. We can make him speaker and then elect him president!”

There’s one little flaw with that scenario. Trump is facing 91 criminal charges across four federal and state jurisdictions.

The GOP conference has “Rule 26” which states, “(a) A member of the Republican Leadership shall step aside if indicted for a felony for which a sentence of two or more years imprisonment may be imposed. (b) If a member of the Republican Elected Leadership is indicted, the Republican Conference shall meet and elect a Member to temporarily serve in that position.”

Here’s my suggestion: The 208 Democrats recruit eight moderate Republicans and install Liz Cheney as the new speaker.

Yes, this is a surreal political circus, but please, please, don’t you dare blame the real clowns.

-Brian Howey is senior writer and columnist for Howey Politics Indiana/State Affairs. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.