If politics is the art of the possible, a divided House is the ideal theatre to perfect it. But there are at least two factors that will work against new Speaker Kevin McCarthy as he tries to press legislative business in the United States House of Representatives. One is the thinness of the Republican majority in the House, just four seats more than the Democrats after the midterm elections last November failed to produce an anticipated “red tide”. The other is the extent to which he is beholden to the extreme wing of the party loyal to former president Donald Trump. Mr McCarthy’s election, an engrossing political spectacle and an overt demonstration of Mr Trump’s lingering influence on the political landscape, saw 15 rounds of voting. Not since 1923 has there been more than a single round of voting to elect the Speaker.
Mr McCarthy has acknowledged his political debt to Mr Trump and, by extension, to the Maga (Make America Great Again) Republicans who reject the outcome of the 2020 election. Unless things change dramatically, Mr McCarthy will have to repay the favour when the time comes. Twenty-five years ago, Democratic president Bill Clinton moved to the centre to work with then Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich after a setback in the midterms. But this is no easy feat to replicate in the hyper-partisan climate of today.