By BRIAN A. HOWEY, in Paoli, Ind.

1. Speaker Banks?

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy's blood is in the water when it comes to becoming the next Speaker should Republicans take the majority in 2022. The GOP's nutball wing - Reps. Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene - have collectively decided to play kingmaker. Gaetz says he envisions Donald Trump as the next speaker and said earlier this week, "We are going to take power after this next election and when we do, it’s not going to be the days of Paul Ryan and Trey Gowdy and no real oversight and no real subpoenas. It’s going to be the days of Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene and Dr. Gosar and myself doing everything.” Yikes!

In this yawning dystopian void are persistent whispers that Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks might be positioned to become the next speaker, should Republicans take the majority. Banks has been seen as a key ally to McCarthy, and a Google Images search doesn't turn up any photos of him with Gaetz (under a sex crime investigation), Boebert and Greene.

Banks has appeared on Steve Bannon's "War Room" podcast. On Thursday, Bannon and Gaetz were talking about deploying 4,000 "shock troops" across America to prepare for a second Donald Trump administration. Bannon: "This is Trumpism in power. That's when we went to the 4,000 shock troops we have to have that's going to man the government. Get them ready now. Right? We're going to hit the beach with the landing teams and the beachhead teams and all that nomenclature they use when President Trump wins in 2024 — or before." Matt Gaetz: “People didn’t like that Donald Trump raised his voice but sometimes you’ve got to raise your voice to raise a ruckus and to raise an army of patriots who love this country and will fight for her. And if we get more of them in Congress, that is exactly what we are going to do, to operationalize the performance. To go right after the people who are imposing the vaccine mandates, who are enriching themselves and who are selling out the country.”

2. Cheney and the Jan. 6 probe

Of course, there's the House Jan. 6 committee, where Reps. Banks and Jim Jordan were jettisoned. Its 2022 report will potentially reshape that election cycle. Republican Rep. Liz Cheney: "@RepLizCheney Thread for those interested in the @January6thCmte's progress: The Committee has already met with nearly 300 witnesses; we hear from four more key figures in the investigation today. We are conducting multiple depositions and interviews every week. We have received exceptionally interesting and important documents from a number of witnesses, including Mark Meadows. He has turned over many texts from his private cell phone from January 6th. We have litigated and won Trump’s executive privilege case in Federal District Court. The Federal Appellate Court has expedited the appeal, and we anticipate a ruling regarding many more Trump White House documents soon." Plus, former Mike Pence chief of staff Marc Short, who was with the veep on Jan. 6, is also cooperating.

3. Mixed economy

Wall Street Journal: U.S. inflation likely reached a nearly four-decade high in November, as strong consumer demand collided with pandemic-related supply constraints. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal estimate the Labor Department will report the consumer-price index—which measures what consumers pay for goods and services—rose 6.7% in November from the same month a year ago." Reuters: The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped to the lowest level in more than 52 years last week as labor market conditions continued to tighten amid an acute shortage of workers.

4. Al Unser dies

Al Unser, one of only four drivers to win the Indianapolis 500 a record four times, died Thursday following a long illness at age 82. IMS President Doug Boles: "He will be remembered as one of the best to ever race at Indianapolis and we will all miss his smile, sense of humor, and his warm, approachable personality. An icon and hero to racing fans around the world. Godspeed, racer."

5. Pur ...ffft!

The Purdue Boilermakers achieved their first No. 1 men's basketball ranking in school history on Monday. On Thursday, the No. 1 Boilermakers lost to Rutgers on Ron Harper Jr.'s 40 foot runner at the buzzer, 70-68. This is nothing that a Final Four appearance won't correct.

Have a great weekend, folks, and thanks for reading. It's The Atomic!