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U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) walks away from the U.S. Capitol in Washington after his motion to vacate the chair of House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and end McCarthy's continued leadership succeeded, on Oct. 3.JONATHAN ERNST/Reuters

Kevin McCarthy made history in January when it took 15 ballots to elect him as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, and again this week when he was ousted in a single vote. His 270-day speakership will go down as the shortest in almost 150 years – though it is a miracle he lasted in the job as long as he did. The California Republican was doomed from the start.

To win the speakership, Mr. McCarthy made a fatal concession – you might even call it a pact with the devil – in agreeing to enact a procedural rule that allowed a single House member to table a “motion to vacate” the Speaker’s chair. Six rogue Republicans agreed to abstain on the 15th ballot in exchange for this concession, enabling Mr. McCarthy to finally grab the gavel, but leaving him at the mercy of the chaos makers in his party.

That Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz, one of the Republicans who abstained in January, exercised this nuclear option on Tuesday was no surprise to anyone in the Beltway. The smug and petulant Mr. Gaetz insisted he bore “no personal animus” toward Mr. McCarthy. If you believe that, there is some swampland in Mr. Gaetz’s home state you might be interested in purchasing.

Since 2021, the 41-year-old Mr. Gaetz has been the subject of a House ethics committee investigation into allegations he engaged in “sexual misconduct and/or illicit drug use, shared inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misused state identification records, converted campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepted a bribe, improper gratuity, or impermissible gift.”

The investigation began when Democrats controlled the House. But it continued under Mr. McCarthy’s speakership, even though the U.S. Justice Department declined to bring charges against Mr. Gaetz earlier this year.

Mr. Gaetz was furious that Mr. McCarthy did not put an end to the ethics committee probe. He did not buy Mr. McCarthy’s insistence that he had no authority to do so and even suggested he had encouraged the investigation. “I believe that Speaker McCarthy is trying to signal to the Ethics Committee to pursue me,” he said on Monday. “I’ve faced down tougher than these folks, and I’ll do it again.”

That Mr. Gaetz had a personal axe to grind against Mr. McCarthy is obvious. Given his impetuousness – he has “spoiled brat” written all over him – he had no whims about putting his own interests ahead of those of his party by plunging Congress into a state of near-anarchy that could doom GOP chances of holding on to the House in 2024.

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The GOP now holds 221 House seats, leaving it with a razor-thin majority of just four seats. Eighteen Republican members are from swing districts that President Joe Biden won in 2020, and hence are the most vulnerable in next year’s elections. Mr. McCarthy was looking out for them by crafting spending legislation they can sell to moderate voters back home.

Most Americans just want Washington to work. Instead, Mr. Gaetz and his co-conspirators in sowing mayhem are helping Democrats make the case that the GOP is unfit to govern.

To be sure, the grandstanding Mr. Gaetz insisted he was just punishing Mr. McCarthy. Last week, Mr. McCarthy struck a deal with Democrats to prevent a government shutdown and avoid the radical spending cuts Mr. Gaetz and his hardline cohorts claim they support. But that was just the excuse he used to fundraise off the circus act he performed for the cameras and posted online.

“I take no lecture from those who would grovel and bend knee for the lobbyists and special interests who own our leadership, hollow out this town, and borrow against the future of our future generations,” he told the House, as if his revolt was based on principle.

To which former George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove retorted in The Wall Street Journal: “Mr. Gaetz is no spending purist – he didn’t go on a jihad against President Trump when he added US$6.7-trillion to the national debt.”

Indeed, the MAGA magician, who said in 2016 that he could eliminate the federal debt in eight years, ended up increasing it by more than all but one of his predecessors in only four years in the White House. Mr. Rove called Mr. Gaetz “an egotistical nihilist” who “has shown he is worse than a jackass.”

Some Republicans, including former GOP speaker Newt Gingrich, now want Mr. Gaetz to be expelled from the party’s House conference. But the sad fact is that there are now two Florida narcissists calling the shots in the GOP, with Donald Trump and Mr. Gaetz acting as partners in the destruction of what little respectability their party has left.

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