Will Republicans Forgive Kevin McCarthy?

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Clean-up, aisle GOP.

Republican leader Kevin McCarthy might have survived the past week with his colleagues as well as some of the worst. First, he got called out by his colleagues for slamming then-President Donald Trump’s role in inflaming the Jan. 6 riot in a phone call made days after the attack, which was published by New York Times reporters. He then suggested some members of his conference shouldn’t be allowed on social media platforms. Another recording was also released by New York TimesHe suggested that some of his nominal Republican Party allies had used rhetoric which may have threatened people on January 6.

In short: McCarthy, the heir apparent to lead the House if Republicans take back the majority, isn’t quite the shoo-in that he was six months ago. But his colleagues haven’t entirely abandoned him. Yet.

The shocking revelations by two New Yorkers have made it clear that House Republicans were being cooperative in the recent days. Times reporters’ forthcoming book about the last gasps of Donald Trump’s presidency. Although many are reluctant to defend McCarthy, lawmakers avoided answering questions and blame journalists for the discord. As Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s likely successor, the GOP ranks and file have been scrutinizing McCarthy closely. They are trying to gauge whether McCarthy actually supports their views or if he is willing to fealt Trump. These tapes don’t help his case.

Still, McCarthy hasn’t been tanked by his fellow Republicans. Trump signals that McCarthy continues to be copacetic and cooperative with the Mar-a-Lago Circuit. The MAGA crowd doesn’t seem to have been enraged by the betrayal, and McCarthy has continued churning through fundraising calls without any hint of resistance from the party’s loyalists. The GOP seems on a glide path to win at least enough seats in November’s elections to overtake the Democrats’ razor-thin margin.

The apparent loyalty may be because, by and large, McCarthy’s conference likes him. McCarthy recruited a large portion of the Tea Party class in 2010, but not because he had any special affinity with the people, but simply out of opportunism. McCarthy saw anti-Washington candidates, which he considered reliable votes for his rise to power, as a way of gaining his support. His partners and friends Eric Cantor and Paul Ryan were defeated by the burn-it down caucus. But McCarthy had a direct line to the troublemakers from 2010 and onward, and he has done everything possible to coddle them and their successors in Congress in pursuit of his ultimate goal: the Speaker’s gavel.

But here’s the problem with that naked ambition: math. The Speaker requires the support of at least half the voters in order to be effective. And very real threats to McCarthy’s coalition remain. If Republicans have a blow-out victory along the lines of 2010’s Tea Party win or Democrats’ 2016 anti-Bush wave, McCarthy is probably safe. But if it’s a close election season, McCarthy could be denied the Speaker slot with a few defections from the likes of Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Madison Cawthorn, and Lauren Boebert—a cohort of Trumpist lawmakers who have each been summoned to his office for a stern talking-to.

Then, there’s the secondary question: will Fox News scuttle his changes? The channel’s hosts have been hunting McCarthy in the last few days, claiming he’s a puppet of the Democratic Party and a proxy for liberal ambitions, leading some viewers to wonder if it’s a chicken-and-egg scenario: whether Trump is privately gunning for McCarthy, or if the network will prod Trump to eventually turn on one of his own. It’s been well-established that the symbiosis between the network and Trump drove national policy during Trump’s four years in office, and McCarthy’s fate may hinge on the less-than-subtle messaging coming from the nation’s leading cable channel.

Ultimately, McCarthy’s Republicans will have to run 435 different races from campaigns in Madawaska, Maine, to Manawaiopuna Falls, Hawaii. Democrats could defend their majority, and Republican infighting could still defy the historical pattern that suggests they’ll take the majority. The real drama unfolding in Washington has to do with whether McCarthy treats his future as a crystal ball or a shaky Magic 8 Ball; just how much of the GOP’s prospects are preordained, and how much actually are in play? As it stands, it’s a coin-toss for McCarthy.

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