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Former Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) carries a box as he leaves the office of the Speaker of the House and heads out of the U.S. Capitol several hours after being ousted from his position in Washington on Oct. 3.JONATHAN ERNST/Reuters

To the names Georges Danton, Maximilien Robespierre and Leon Trotsky, add Kevin McCarthy.

The Republican revolution on Capitol Hill just ate one of its own.

Like the rebels in revolutionary France and Soviet Russia, the House Speaker was devoured by the GOP revolution he abetted but ultimately was unable to control.

By toppling him from his position at the head of the Republicans in the House on Tuesday, and thus seizing from his hand the gavel that rules the chamber, GOP insurgents – conservatives “running with scissors,” in the characterization of McCarthy supporter Representative Mike Garcia of California – took the weapon the Speaker handed them and then stabbed him in a historic public political assassination.

Mr. McCarthy ultimately was outflanked on the right by as many as two dozen members of his own party who found Mr. McCarthy too tremulous and too tentative. In an unusual roll call vote before a House chamber unusually full of lawmakers paying rapt attention, eight of them – all closely aligned with former president Donald Trump – voted to make him the only House Speaker ever removed from office.

The vote to “vacate” the Speakership means just that, at least for now: The office of the Speaker is vacant, with implications that cannot be predicted, this specific phenomenon never having occurred before. For the time being, Republican Representative Patrick McHenry of North Carolina will act as interim Speaker.

The irony was that the weapon for Mr. McCarthy’s political mortification – the right of a single lawmaker to call to “vacate” the Speaker’s chair – was the very one he granted in January as a price of his leadership. The result is that a legislative chamber that for months has been consumed in chaos now is entering yet another, and far more uncertain and far more perilous, period, without precedent in American history.

But in the Republican caucus, chaos was in the eyes of the beholder. “‘Chaos’ is Speaker McCarthy,” Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida, whose opposition to Mr. McCarthy prompted the vote to cause the Speaker’s fall, said on the floor. “‘Chaos’ is someone who we cannot trust with his word.”

Mr. McCarthy may have been forced to his Elba exile, but unlike Napoleon, he declined to make an attempt to return to power. The new Speaker will be the sixth Republican Speaker in 17 years – an astonishing rate of turnover in a position that had only six occupants in the 40 years, from 1955 to 1995, of Democratic rule of the House.

In the one hour of floor debate, not one Democrat spoke, apparently honouring the tenet sometimes attributed to Napoleon, that political figures and military leaders should never interfere with enemies while they are in the process of destroying themselves. Though the Democrats could have saved Mr. McCarthy, they refused to do that.

In the same afternoon in which the House of Commons selected a new Speaker in Ottawa with crisp efficiency, the Republicans’ vote to remove the American Speaker was a portrait of the mayhem that has dominated the House since the Republicans took power after the 2022 midterm congressional elections.

“The kind of trust that is given to Canadian Speakers is not given to American Speakers, who are partisan characters,” Pierre Martin, a University of Montreal political scientist, said in an interview.

“McCarthy is a victim of very deep divisions within his party – but a less generous view might be that he is also a victim of his own personal ambition. The situation he was in has been untenable from the start. The deal he made to become Speaker was suicidal.”

Ordinarily American Speakers’ powers derive from the size of their party majority; the fearsomeness of their personalities; the respect afforded to them by their colleagues; the unity of their caucuses. Of those four factors, Mr. McCarthy possessed nary a one.

His party majority was only nine votes (effectively giving five members the balance of power); his personality was sheepish; he never won the respect of some members of his caucus; and a ruling party in the House have seldom been less unified.

In the Republican revolution, Mr. McCarthy was more opportunist than operative. Mr. Trump referred to him as “My Kevin,” a particularly stinging sobriquet in Washington, where there is particular contempt for any political figure to be known as, in the argot of old-time politics, “another man’s man.”

Politically Mr. McCarthy – widely liked but not deeply respected – had the profile of the 97-pound weakling (“Hey! Quit kicking that sand in our faces!”) in the Charles Atlas bodybuilding advertisements that were on the back pages of comic books in Mr. McCarthy’s childhood.

The proximate cause of Mr. McCarthy’s demise was his triumph in steering through the House a solution to the threat of a government shutdown on the weekend. It was his consorting with Democrats that spiked the anger of Mr. Gaetz, the author of House Resolution 757, which called for the ouster of Mr. McCarthy.

The House rebels also criticized Mr. McCarthy for not keeping the promises – including demands that spending for what Republican Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona called “wasteful, duplicative programs” be dramatically reduced – that he granted to win his position after 15 agonizing votes only nine months ago.

Speaking in support of his drive to strip Mr. McCarthy of his position, Mr. Gaetz said that the legislative body was “entrenched in a ... malevolent path and will not change.” It was the sole element of agreement among all elements of the House – Republicans and Democrats, GOP rebels and GOP regulars – in a body that is even more divided than ever.

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