America-First Populists Must Capitalize

By José Niño

On Oct. 2, 2023, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) filed a motion to vacate against then-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in an effort to unseat him. As one of the most vocal America First populists in the U.S. House, Gaetz has long had an ax to grind with McCarthy. For the past few months, Gaetz has threatened to use this procedural tool to oust McCarthy from his position as speaker.

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The threats grew stronger towards the end of September when McCarthy turned to Democrats to muster the necessary votes to fund the government ahead of a highly-speculated government shutdown. The final straw appeared to be when Gaetz confronted McCarthy for forging a secret deal with House Democrats to pass aid to Ukraine after initially excluding it from the bill funding the federal government.

Gaetz finally got his wish on Oct. 3, when 216 members of the House voted to remove McCarthy from his position—a first in American history. 210 other members of the House resisted the move.

The irony here is McCarthy’s demise as House speaker can be traced back to the horse-trading that took place before he was voted in for that role. Members of the House Freedom Caucus were able to extract several notable concessions from McCarthy in January, including:

  • The restoration of a rule allowing just one Republican member of the House to call for a vote to remove the speaker.
  •  A pledge to allow more Freedom Caucus members to serve on the Rules Committee.
  •  A pledge to hold votes for Freedom Caucus legislative priorities such as border security and term limits.
  •  A pledge to release video footage of the protests at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, unfairly characterized as an “insurrection” by the mass media and political establishment.
  •  The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC connected to McCarthy, vowing to not participate in open primaries in safe seats.
  •  The execution of hearings on issues such as the U.S.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, the origins of Covid-19, FBI overreach, and the politicization of federal law enforcement.

The motion to vacate the Speaker of the House concession proved fatal for McCarthy in the long-term. For his part, McCarthy is a consummate member of the GOP establishment. The former House speaker could always be counted on to support never-ending wars, mass migration, and pro-corporate policies.

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On the other hand, Gaetz is a committed proponent of America First nationalism. Bombastic behavior aside, Gaetz generally called for restraint on foreign policy matters, routinely pushed for immigration restriction, and was willing to confront the Justice Department and its appendages such as the FBI and ATF for their constitutional abuses and extreme politicization. Gaetz was never satisfied with McCarthy’s leadership of the House and was incensed by the federal government’s reckless spending.

When fellow House Republicans criticized Gaetz’s political maneuver, Gaetz countered by arguing “voting against McCarthy is not chaos, $33 trillion in debt is.” Now that McCarthy is out as speaker, things will get interesting in the House.

To be sure, McCarthy’s presence as speaker will not be missed. However, McCarthy being out of the picture may not be the cure-all some on the right believe it will be. The rumored candidates expected to replace him, such as Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La.), Tom Emmer (R-Minn.), Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), or Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), are largely fixtures of the D.C. establishment but with Tea Party-era cosmetics. None of these candidates are America First nationalists who will fundamentally alter the way business is conducted in our nation’s capital, much less lead to the wholesale reduction of the administrative state or reduction of immigration levels.

Former President Donald Trump was been floated as a potential speaker candidate. However, with the presidential campaign he’s running and the multiple indictments he’s facing at the moment, a speaker role is likely one of the last things he has thought about.

The current squabbling in the House is emblematic of the drawn-out multi-decade factional struggle that grassroots conservatives have prosecuted against the GOP establishment. The unfortunate reality is that Republicans function as the false opposition wing to the uniparty that dominates politics in Washington, D.C. Many of these elected officials are more concerned with carrying out the agenda of the special interest groups that fund and keep them in office.

Rocking the boat on the policy front—passing immigration restriction measures, reducing the size of the administrative state, or ending the cash and arms flows to Ukraine, for example—are simply not in the cards. Furthermore, the primary interest groups that run the party, such as the Zionist lobby, defense contractors, and the Chamber of Commerce, among others, prevent Republicans from deviating from the party line.

At the end of the day, Republicans enjoy comfy positions in D.C. while also being in the thrall of vested interest groups that have much to lose from a hypothetical anti-establishment takeover. Republicans will offer up all sorts of excuses for their failures. The fact is that a good portion of Republicans care little about advancing an America First agenda. Moreover, many Republicans have proven to be feckless when it comes to the exercise of prudential power designed to promote their interests.

They usually hide behind bromides about small government and power corrupting individuals. However, the U.S. currently finds itself in an existential political crisis that will require its leaders to take bold political actions no matter how controversial they may be. The present set of leaders are simply not up to this task.

As a result, disgruntled members of the right will have to start supporting candidates, alternative media, and other parallel institutions that genuinely espouse their agenda if they’re serious about bringing change to national politics. Anything that falls short of that will guarantee “politics as usual” in the D.C. Swamp.

José Niño is a freelance writer based in Austin, Texas. You can contact him via Facebook and  Twitter. Get his e-book, The 10 Myths of Gun Control at Subscribe to his “Substack” newsletter by visiting “Jose Nino Unfiltered” on