On Tuesday morning, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy questioned whether Donald Trump was the strongest Republican candidate for the presidency. That set off a countdown clock to McCarthy’s inevitable backpedaling, but the clock didn’t have long to count. By Tuesday afternoon, McCarthy had gone past mere backpedaling to outright groveling as he tried to make up for his offense against his ultimate boss.
McCarthy’s offending comment, in a CNBC interview, was: “Can he win that election? Yeah, he can win that election,” against President Joe Biden, McCarthy said. “The question is, is he the strongest to win the election; I don’t know that answer.”
Gasp. Trump was officially not pleased, and McCarthy—who got ahold of the speaker’s gavel after 15 rounds of voting in large part because of Trump’s support—saw his own political future imperiled.
Within hours, McCarthy had called Trump to apologize and suck up, and had gone to Breitbart News to offer a public round of groveling. “The only reason Biden is using his weaponized federal government to go after President Trump is because he is Biden’s strongest political opponent, as polling continues to show,” McCarthy told Breitbart in his effort to defuse Trump’s rage.
Trump is “stronger today than he was in 2016,” McCarthy now insisted, attacking the media for “attempting to drive a wedge between President Trump and House Republicans.” (My dude, you said what you said.)
But, Politico reports, McCarthy’s efforts weren’t enough. Nothing less than absolute loyalty is required, and McCarthy hasn’t shown it—not just in his original CNBC comments, but in his failure thus far to endorse Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. Then, without having succeeded in getting full forgiveness, McCarthy made things worse by sending out fundraising emails and texts blaring, “Trump is the STRONGEST opponent to Biden!” Using Trump’s name to fundraise for anyone other than Trump is yet another way to anger him, and Trump’s people quickly told McCarthy to pull that fundraising message.
One way we’ll know if McCarthy feels the continuing threat of Trump’s rage is if he breaks down and endorses after having held out this long.
Trump’s toxicity was a key factor in keeping McCarthy out of the job he yearned for after the 2018 and 2020 elections. Trump’s support in late 2022 and early 2023 finally helped drag McCarthy across the finish line to be speaker, but it was so difficult in part because of a weaker-than-expected Republican majority in the House and because of opposition from people who felt themselves to be carrying Trump’s true message.
McCarthy’s groveling—over the offense of simply saying that he didn’t know if Trump was the strongest candidate against Biden—shows again how firm Trump’s grasp on the Republican Party is. There is no significant center of power beyond Trump, no one in a real position of power within the party willing to consistently be a voice against him. What do Republicans have for it? Major losses in 2018 and 2020 and a dramatic underperformance of expectations in 2022. A pathetic, bumbling, groveling speaker. Constant infighting and chaos in the House. A primary campaign in which Trump dominates polling. It’s Trump’s Republican Party. McCarthy’s just trying to survive in it.