Greene, an extreme pro-Trump lawmaker, has warned McCarthy will have to satisfy a series of demands before he gets votes for speaker from her and like-minded Republican representatives. The trip will underscore how immigration — perhaps Trump’s signature issue — is a glue that unites GOP factions and is at the center of the party’s midterm election quest given the White House’s vulnerabilities on the issue.
In another time, McCarthy’s eviscerated credibility might have destroyed his political future. But in an age in which most GOP power depends on Trump’s patronage, McCarthy’s subsequent recommitment to the Trump movement might have actually strengthened his claims to the speakership.
And it proved that anyone with aspirations of power in the GOP, at least in the House, must make a similar decision to prioritize loyalty to Trump over simple facts and truth.
This is not a partisan point — it’s borne out by events of four tumultuous years of the Trump presidency, two impeachments and the ex-President’s lies that the 2020 election was a fraud. And it represents judgments by lawmakers about the views of their constituents in the pro-Trump base of the party, which remains strongly aligned with the ex-President and favorable to his alternative 2020 reality.
McCarthy and Trump spoke Thursday night to discuss the Times story. The younger man’s apparent success in papering over what could have been a political nightmare suggests that the same unwillingness to speak truth to the ex-President’s excesses that marked the GOP during his term in office will be a dominant feature of American politics in the midterm campaign and ahead of the 2024 election if Trump runs.
A GOP midterm win would hand Trump a powerful weapon
In a broader sense, events of the last few days pose serious questions for American democracy since Trump’s authoritarian streak has only become more extreme as he sought to overturn the 2020 election and seeks to turn the 2022 midterms into a pageant of personal revenge. And there is even less evidence that the House GOP, which has worked to whitewash his incitement to him on January 6, 2021, has the interest or the political capacity to do anything to curtail him in the future.
Trump embraces new evidence of his power
Trump understands the power dynamic perfectly. McCarthy’s phone call with the ex-President after the audio emerged reestablished that his future was in Trump’s hands and reinforced perceptions that Trump is the true locus of GOP power.
The ex-President relishes public displays of fealty. It suits him and his zeal for power for McCarthy to be portrayed in the media as his puppet of him and for McCarthy to turn political somersaults to retain Trump’s favor.
And referring to Republicans, who have largely embraced him after slamming his role in the Capitol insurrection, Trump said: “It’s all a big compliment, frankly,” adding, “They realized they were wrong and supported me.”
Democrats seize on Trump’s shadow
Still, the latest example of Trump’s dominance of the GOP could play into Democratic claims that the former President represents a mortal danger to American democracy.
“This is outrageous. And that is really the illness that pervades the Republican leadership right now, that they say one thing to the American public and something else in private,” Warren said.
So McCarthy’s speakership hopes — already facing some skepticism from the pro-Trump wing of the GOP — will never be a sure thing right up until the moment that Republicans claim power if they win back the House in November.
But the California Republican can also count on strong loyalty of many of the GOP rank and file in the House, partly through his prodigious fundraising.
Some party lawmakers told CNN’s Melanie Zanona, Manu Raju and Lauren Fox in recent days that the leader was not seriously damaged by the episode.
McCarthy has long considered the support of Trump’s basis the critical factor in winning back the House. His entire strategy of downplaying the fallout from the January 6 insurrection has been directed toward this aim.
And a huge GOP win in November would also bolster McCarthy’s authority and long-held hopes of becoming speaker. Political circumstances appear to be aligning with his goal. With each month that passes, the plight of Democrats — plagued by high gas prices and raging inflation — fails to improve and the McCarthy victory scenario becomes even more plausible.
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican who flipped a Biden state last fall, showed that Democratic campaigns rooted in the danger from Trump can be neutralized by sharp attacks on them over costly grocery bills and perceptions about a politicized education system.
And while Washington commentators and Democratic lawmakers highlight the blatant nature of McCarthy’s lies, the fragmented and hyper-partisan nature of US media means their concerns will not move most Republican voters.
Therein lies the essential logic behind McCarthy’s choice: the only outcome of his latest controversy that could imperil his hopes of becoming speaker would be if he ended up further stranded from Trump.
So his path forward was obvious. And that is likely to have huge consequences for what Washington looks like in January 2023 and beyond.