Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)

If there were an award for failing upward in this town, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) would be a sure-fire winner. The House majority whip is poised to replace the primary-defeated Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) as House majority leader on Thursday. Yet, in none of the glowing profiles of the leader-in-waiting have I read about his failure in his current job.

All of the pieces I’ve read have focused on “McCarthy’s strong personal relationships” with the Republican majority, on how he is “the likable majority whip who spent an inordinate amount of time getting to know almost every Republican lawmaker” and on how he has donated to their campaigns. But those stories neglect to point out that McCarthy could never deliver those loyal members when House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) needed them most. “If the speaker sets the legislative agenda and the majority leader lays out the game plan,” The Post’s Ed O’Keefe writes today, “it’s the whip who ensures that legislation will pass.” And time and time again, McCarthy failed.

There was the embarrassing failure in 2011 to pass a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut negotiated by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). There was the abrupt decision to withdraw Boehner’s plan to avoid the “fiscal cliff” in 2012 “after failing to win support from his fellow Republicans for a plan to let tax rates rise for millionaires,” as The Post reported then. There was the unheard-of failure to pass the farm bill last year. And then there were the fights over raising the debt ceiling that rattled world markets and left Boehner’s leadership crippled.

As the speaker, all those failures and others I didn’t mention fall squarely on Boehner’s shoulders. But as I wrote after the payroll tax cut fiasco three years ago, that there have been so many legislative failures should call into question not only McCarthy’s ability to count, but also whether he has Boehner’s best interests at heart. McCarthy’s promotion to the No. 2 spot in the House leadership won’t make things any better for Boehner or the chamber he tries so hard to lead.

 

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Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.