Former President Donald Trump has catapulted the careers of many a Republican over the past eight years. None have benefited more than Kevin McCarthy.
In every conceivable way, the House speaker owes his gavel to Trump.
That’s why it came as a shock yesterday when McCarthy on Tuesday dissed Trump in a CNBC interview, openly questioning whether Trump would be Republicans’ best presidential nominee in 2024 after carefully avoiding the topic for months.
“Can he win that election? Yeah, he can win that election,” McCarthy said, referring to a Biden-Trump matchup. “The question is: ‘Is he the strongest to win the election?’ I don’t know that answer.”
Trump world flipped out. Top aides to the former president and allies who know both men quickly traded messages asking, in short: What the fuck?
Some called McCarthy a “moron.” Others looked to Trump campaign hand Brian Jack, who also advises the speaker and has been a critical bridge between both men, to play mediator as Trump hit the trail in New Hampshire.
McCarthy immediately pivoted into clean-up mode. He called Trump to apologize, according to the New York Times. He offered Breitbart reporter Matt Boyle an exclusive interview, during which he walked the comments back and accused the media of taking them out of context.
“Trump is stronger today than he was in 2016,” McCarthy told Boyle.
None of these moves assuaged the fury in Trump’s inner circle, people familiar with the matter told POLITICO. McCarthy, they feel, has taken advantage of the former president when it benefits him and failed to show unflinching loyalty in return. They don’t understand how he could “misspeak” — as McCarthy, we’re told, put it to Trump — on something so critical.
In fact, McCarthy’s damage control made things worse. The speaker’s campaign allies pushed out fundraising emails and texts claiming, “Trump is the STRONGEST opponent to Biden!” — then asking for money.
Fundraising off of Trump’s name without permission is a huge no-no for the former president. His team requires explicit approval for any campaign to use his name and likeness. Trump’s team asked McCarthy’s last night to take down the fundraising pitch.
This is not the first time McCarthy has been crosswise with Trump. After the Jan. 6 riot, McCarthy floated the idea of censuring Trump for his actions and was later caught on tape discussing the idea of asking Trump to resign. Yet the two continued their symbiotic bond: McCarthy quickly assumed a key role in restoring Trump’s prominence in the GOP, and Trump stayed in McCarthy’s corner as he battled for the gavel.
But Tuesday’s drama came at a sensitive moment, with a major question already bouncing around Trump world: Why hasn’t McCarthy endorsed Trump?
While it’s unclear if Trump has explicitly asked McCarthy for his support, his silence on the matter has baffled the former president and his close allies.
McCarthy has told some Trump backers that he’s holding off because an endorsement “might hurt” Trump by tying him to the party establishment, according to one GOP campaign consultant who asked not to be named. He’s also suggested that as the highest-ranking Republican in office, just two heartbeats away from the presidency, perhaps he should stay neutral.
But Trump’s allies aren’t buying that. The former president, the thinking goes, will never allow McCarthy to stay on the sidelines in a nasty GOP primary and expects his full support, something many of them think he’ll get eventually — and perhaps, now, sooner rather than later.
“At what point is it okay for Kevin McCarthy not to endorse Trump?” the consultant asked. “Donald Trump has been very good to Kevin McCarthy.”
The brouhaha also raised questions about how long Trump or will support McCarthy.
Many of the ex-president’s strongest allies in Congress have been stacking up their grievances against McCarthy, waiting for the right moment to make a move. Several would be more than happy to force a vote to oust the speaker if Trump wanted — and Trump knows that.
“If Donald Trump wanted … he could have him out as speaker by the end of the week,” the consultant said.
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