Only 269 days after winning the speaker’s gavel, Kevin McCarthy stood before television cameras to deliver his own political obituary.
“I made history, didn’t I?” he said, reflecting on becoming the first speaker to be voted out of office in the House of Representatives’ 234-year history.
It is the shortest tenure of a House speaker in the United States since 1876, when Michael Kerr served 257 days before dying in office.
Mr McCarthy was toppled by eight hard-Right Republicans, who joined with Democrats to depose him in a 216-210 vote.
He made history when he won the speakership in January, too: it took 15 rounds to persuade sceptical Right-wingers to back him.
In the end, he won their grudging support by striking a pact, allowing any one member of the House to call a snap vote to oust him.
He was hostage to his party’s Right flank ever since – trying, and failing, to pass their list of conservative priorities.
They finally lost patience with him after he struck a deal with Democrats to avoid a government shutdown.
Defending himself against their accusations of treason, Mr McCarthy said that he had chosen “governing over grievance”.
But that was no longer possible, he said, with an insurgent Right-wing willing to choose chaos over compromise.
“My fear is the institution fell today,” he said. “Because you can’t do the job if eight people ... can partner with the whole other side.”
It is an open question if any of Mr McCarthy’s would-be successors can manage what he could not.
In the eyes of hardline Republicans, their centrist colleagues are not much better than Democrats.
And without a consensus candidate, there is no clear path to installing a new speaker.
Republican hardliners galvanised
“You really have to wonder whether or not the House is governable at all,” said Dusty Johnson, a Republican member for South Dakota. “I’m not sure I wish this job on anyone.”
Democrats appear happy to stand back and watch the internecine struggle play out, but they may come to regret it.
Republican hardliners have been galvanised by McCarthy’s defenestration and are likely to seek a more hardline replacement, inspired by Donald Trump and his bombastic approach. But even the former president has misgivings about the strategy.
Mr Trump backed Mr McCarthy for the speakership in January, against the objections of his most loyal acolytes in the House.
And he signalled his disapproval when Matt Gaetz, a member of congress for Florida, triggered the vote to oust Mr McCarthy on Tuesday.
“Why is it that Republicans are always fighting among themselves, why aren’t they fighting the Radical Left Democrats,” Mr Trump said.
But the eight Republican rebels are unlikely to be willing to seek compromise now that they have proof of their power.
Despite representing 4 per cent of House Republicans, they managed to override the 96 per cent who backed Mr McCarthy.
Choosing a new speaker could take more than a week, eating into time for legislating.
Until a House speaker is installed, one half of Congress will remain in a state of paralysis.
It could doom hopes of passing more aid for Ukraine or avoiding a government shutdown before the Nov 17 deadline.
Emboldened hardliners do not appear concerned by the consequences but the inevitable bloody battle to elect a new speaker will leave the Republican House majority weaker, not stronger.
Republicans risk being defined by the chaos going into the 2024 election – and leaving Americans wondering if they can be trusted to govern.