The Memo: McCarthy furor underlines Trump’s grip on GOP
Supporters and critics of former President Trump are showing surprising unity in how they react to a new furor.
The controversy around comments made about Trump by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), they say, has only served to underline Trump’s grip on the GOP — to the satisfaction of the president’s allies and the chagrin of his enemies.
“I’ve heard that Trump doesn’t appear to be that upset about it because, in his mind, this highlights his power and influence in the Republican Party,” one Trump World adviser told this column, asking for anonymity to speak candidly.
“A lot of the media is making an assumption about how Trump will react, which doesn’t actually fit with the reality of how Trump views things,” the adviser added.
The former president, according to this theory, is far more consumed by questions of raw power — and whether people are willing to do his bidding — than he is by any questions of real consistency or principle.
That may be good news for McCarthy, who these days goes out of his way to display his loyalty to Trump.
That’s a sharp contrast to the views he expressed in the immediate aftermath of the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection.
The current controversy kicked off when New York Times journalists Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns revealed that, in the immediate aftermath of the attack on the Capitol, McCarthy told other GOP House members that he would talk to Trump and prod him to resign.
McCarthy and at least one aide vigorously contested the veracity of that reporting — only for the journalists to produce an audio recording of a call that proved their account to be truthful.
“I’m going to call him,” McCarthy is heard saying, suggesting he would tell Trump that “it would be my recommendation you should resign.”
In the end, McCarthy did no such thing. Instead, a few weeks later, he headed to the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida to make peace with Trump, who had by then just left office.
The new revelations opened McCarthy to immediate ridicule. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), one of the most fervent Trump critics among congressional Republicans, tweeted that McCarthy “was over Trump until he wasn’t, when he realized he needed him,” adding sardonically, “Thanks Kev.”
For McCarthy, one key question is whether the uproar will endanger his chances of becoming Speaker if the Republicans win the House majority at November’s midterm elections.
So far, there has been little sign of an outright insurrection from pro-Trump members against McCarthy. For the moment, they may be waiting to see what Trump himself has to say.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that Trump and McCarthy had spoken by phone on Thursday evening.
But if the two men agree to a peace, it is an uneasy one — and one that Trump could disturb at any moment.
“I think it does do [McCarthy] harm,” said John “Mac” Stipanovich, a longtime Florida GOP operative who is also a fervent Trump critic.
Stipanovich noted that the loudest Trump supporters in Congress, such as Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.), “have been gnawing at McCarthy all along.”
“This will further alarm them, particularly if Trump says something about this,” he added.
But Stipanovich also noted that the overall controversy demonstrates the willingness of senior party figures such as McCarthy to contort themselves to make nice with Trump.
“Some portion of them know that what they are doing and what their colleagues are saying is rubbish — and they just pretend to believe it,” he said.
To that extent, the controversy seems to show that Trump can still impose his will on the GOP — a point that had been increasingly in doubt.
The former president has had a tense relationship with the establishment wing of the party since he first began running for president in 2015.
The revelations from Martin and Burns also included reports of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressing glee that Democrats might “take care of the son of a bitch for us.”
These days, Trump is once again flexing his muscles in the midterms.
He has endorsed a number of a candidates in GOP Senate primaries who make the party establishment uneasy — former football star Herschel Walker in Georgia, TV personality Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania and author J.D. Vance in Ohio.
Beyond that, Trump himself looks to be shaping up to run again in 2024.
Does he still own the party?
He clearly did when he could bend McCarthy to his will in early 2021.
Primary season and beyond brings a fresh test.
Meanwhile, Democrats are all too eager to brand the GOP as the party of Trump — still.
“This ain’t your father’s Republican Party,” President Biden said on Friday. “This is a MAGA party now.”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.
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