House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, first in line to become Speaker of the House if Republicans take over in November, is facing the music.
The song in particular is leaked audio from a meeting McCarthy had with fellow Republicans after the Jan. 6 insurrection, in which McCarthy said that he’d “had it with this guy,” adding that “What he did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend that, and nobody should defend it.” McCarthy also promised to urge Trump to resign, according to two New York Times reporters.
Nevertheless, McCarthy looks like he’s going to be just fine. The Washington Post reported that he called Trump after the audio surfaced, and appears to have done the acceptable groveling necessary to appease the man in charge. His colleagues, meanwhile, don’t seem to mind. McCarthy received a standing ovation in a meeting with House Republicans on Wednesday in which he tried to walk back his comments, calling the media attention a “distraction.”
“All of us were trying to make sense of, you know, what happened, why did it happen, why didn’t we stop it? … We were all trying to wade through that as the dust was settling, and then the dust settled. And I think he came to the right conclusions,” Texas Rep. Jodey Arrington told the Post after the meeting. “That is a snapshot of someone that was just trying to wade through something that was a serious thing and just trying to make sense of it. … Every member had a similar process, whether they were recorded or not.”
If that’s not an exoneration, I don’t know what is. The long and short of it is McCarthy will be just fine, though there are still members of the party’s Trumpiest fringe that aren’t happy with him. McCarthy cited Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz in new audio released Tuesday night, worrying that Gaetz was “putting people in jeopardy” with his irresponsible tweets and TV appearances singling out Liz Cheney, a popular whipping boy (woman) for the far right. Gaetz responded by tweeting that McCarthy’s conduct on “sniveling” calls with Reps. Steve Scalise and Cheney was “the behavior of weak men, not leaders.”
McCarthy is also taking a beating in the press. Tucker Carlson, the far-right’s best messenger in the mainstream media, on Tuesday night called McCarthy a “puppet” of the Democratic Party, and is whipping up a frenzy about the prospective House speaker’s disloyalty to Trump. “McCarthy wanted the tech oligarchs to do more, to force disobedient lawmakers off the internet,” Carlson said, referring to McCarthy’s comments about the possibility of Gaetz and others being banned from Twitter like Trump had been following the attack on the Capitol.
Carlson and the Republican Party’s furthest-right members are doing all they can to challenge the party’s established leadership, but they may not have the juice to make it stick. Trump’s apparent forgiveness of McCarthy shows that he’s not in a hurry to shakeup the GOP’s power structure in the House. “I think it’s all a big compliment, frankly,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal, referring to McCarthy and other Republicans who pulled away after Jan. 6 and then apologized. “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”
The fact that McCarthy has apparently been welcomed back by his peers today indicates that his role at the top of the House GOP likely isn’t in danger. The reason is pretty simple: Trump loves the zeal of his outsider firebrands, but the competency of a seasoned mercenary like McCarthy is still worth more in the swamps of Washington, D.C.