When House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy was asked by a reporter this week when he last talked to Donald Trump, he paused for a millisecond before landing on what was probably the truth.
"Uhhh, this morning," McCarthy said on Thursday, the day after House Democrats censured GOP Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona over his violent tweet depicting the execution of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Democrats also rightfully stripped Gosar of his committee assignments as McCarthy did the dirty work of shielding him from any backlash within the GOP caucus. Trump topped off the entire episode of GOP ignominy by endorsing Gosar.
The whole saga was a reminder of something everyone of us already knew: McCarthy is nothing more than Trump's stooge.
As the week wore on, McCarthy’s antics began to have the whiff of desperation. His 8-hour pre-Build Back Better vote diatribe—perhaps most memorable for uncovering the baby carrot conspiracy—felt less like a Mel Gibson rallying cry in Braveheart than a Steve Carell non sequitur in The Office.
"@GOPLeader is bringing it on the floor right now!" enthused Florida man, Rep. Matt Gaetz, on the early side of McCarthy's harangue. But by Friday, Gaetz was denigrating McCarthy's speech as "a really long death rattle" and railing against House GOP leadership for starting “this march to socialism because they allowed 13 Turncoats to cross the line."
Gaetz is an interesting test case in the GOP caucus, since he's a primo Trump-wannabe hack whom McCarthy shielded from repercussions when it was revealed he was under federal investigation for having sex with a minor and potential sex trafficking. In other words, Gaetz is one of at least a handful of House Republicans to whom McCarthy has effectively given a free pass, in order to earn their vote for his speakership. But despite selling his soul, things don't seem to be going as planned for McCarthy.
In fact, two former GOP strategists and never-Trumpers, Stuart Stevens and Rick Wilson, think McCarthy's days at GOP leader are numbered, particularly if Republicans recapture the majority.
"His crazy caucus of radicals is going to put his head on a spike & elect Jim Jordan," Stevens tweeted Thursday night, calling McCarthy's speech the "desperate plea bargain of a man who knows he is done."
Wilson tweeted out a hypothetical Q&A scenario, with a question he apparently gets a lot: “Why don’t you pay more attention to Kevin McCarthy?”
"A: Because if the GOP retakes the House Jim Jordan will be Speaker," Wilson wrote.
Look, if Republicans win back the House, whoever takes over as Speaker will undoubtedly be nothing more than Trump's mouthpiece. But it does feel as though Trump is making a purity power play to eventually install his handpicked people as heads of both House and Senate Republicans. McCarthy simply won't do after he slipped up one fateful week in mid-January and dared to admit Trump "bears responsibility" for the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
No amount of groveling or spinelessness is going to make up for that.
Which brings us to the Senate. In a little-noticed multi-page statement Wednesday, Trump upgraded Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell from the "Old Crow" to the "Broken Old Crow," charging that he missed his chance to jam President Joe Biden's agenda.
"He could have won it all using the Debt Ceiling—they were ready to fold. Now the Democrats have a big victory and the wind at their back," Trump wrote, referring to the infrastructure bill that McConnell keeps praising in his home state of Kentucky.
"It was extremely good for our state. I'm proud of my vote," McConnell reaffirmed Tuesday, after previously hailing the package as a "godsend" to Kentucky."
For a solid two weeks, Trump has been stewing about passage of the bipartisan measure that 32 congressional Republicans voted for and, let's face it, much like his 2020 loss, it will never be over for Trump. More than just about anything—including the ouster of McCarthy—Trump hopes to orchestrate McConnell's demise. In fact, Trump has been actively agitating "to depose" McConnell for months.
That's what made an Axios story about GOP donors being "furious" over passage of the bipartisan deal stand out. At the center of the story was Sen. Rick Scott of Florida, who reportedly informed his Senate counterparts this week that he had been fielding complaints from angry donors about congressional Republicans handing Biden a big win.
The reporting raised a bunch of provocative questions: Who leaked it, which donors complained, and how many? It's certainly not a story a Republican operative would leak to reflect positively on the Senate GOP conference—19 of whom voted for the bill. It also figured particularly poorly for McConnell, so it likely would have been leaked by a Trump ally trying to make a point.
If anyone is positioned to potentially oust McConnell as leader at some point, it's Rick Scott, who has buddied up to Trump (in contrast to McConnell) and was one of only eight GOP senators to vote against certification of the 2020 election. In that sense, Scott is a purist, while McConnell is a giant thorn in Trump's side.
Scott is also busy building his donor list as chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which would help him blunt one of McConnell's biggest leverage points as leader: his ability to dole out campaign funds to members via his massive fundraising network.
Rick Scott undoubtedly sees himself running for president one day. But if Trump runs in 2024, one could see him vying for Senate leader instead, to bide his time until the time is right for a presidential bid. For Trump, Scott sort of hits the sweet spot between someone like McConnell, an establishment Trump detractor, and Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a Trump convert who is loathed by his colleagues.
If Trump were going to work to elevate anyone to that post, Scott would be a good pick—with the added benefit of distracting him from a 2024 presidential bid.