The question about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has always been: Is he really that dense, or does he just think everyone else is? Either way, and considering the clear fact that he lacks any conviction beyond his overweening desire to be in the speaker’s office, Republicans should be leery of allowing him there as anything but a visitor.
When the New York Times, previewing an upcoming book by its journalists Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, reported Thursday that McCarthy had privately told colleagues he planned to advise President Donald Trump to resign after the violent Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by his supporters, McCarthy erupted in outrage. He claimed the account was “totally false and wrong” and that it was more proof that “the corporate media is obsessed with doing everything it can to further a liberal agenda.”
But Lordy, it turns out there’s tape. In the recording of a call with other Republican leaders four days after the Capitol riot that the Times released Thursday night, McCarthy said of Trump to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.): “The only discussion I would have with him is that I think this [impeachment resolution] will pass and it would be my recommendation that you should resign. Um, I mean that would be my take.” More audio surfaced Friday, including a clip in which McCarthy declared that he had “had it with this guy.”
The tapes are infuriating, as never-Trump Republican Sarah Longwell, publisher of the Bulwark, noted on Twitter: “Kevin McCarthy is casually discussing 25th Amendment, telling Trump to resign, and making sure Pence won’t pardon him. … WITH LIZ CHENEY. Only to, weeks later, kick Cheney out of leadership for saying the same things he did.”
Nor did the minority leader follow through on his stated plan to nudge Trump into early retirement. Instead, soon after the transfer of power on Inauguration Day, McCarthy made a pilgrimage to Palm Beach to kiss the, uh, ring of the potentate of Mar-a-Lago. Trump, in an interview Friday with the Wall Street Journal, said he wasn’t bothered by McCarthy’s recorded comments, given how quickly the minority leader was back in a posture of public obeisance.
Meanwhile, the news surely won’t sit well with the MAGAnauts in the House, including the hard-right Freedom Caucus, which helped upend McCarthy’s bid to become speaker in 2015 and has been the object of his courtship ever since. McCarthy, however, may have bought — or at least leased — their loyalty with such moves as giving his onetime rival Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) committee posts where he can play lead attack dog against the Biden administration should Republicans regain a majority in the House, which seems a likely bet.
Whether McCarthy will be leading them as speaker, however, looks far from a sure thing. This is not the first instance when he has stumbled by telling the truth and then trying to lie his way out of facing the consequences.
There was the time in 2015 when he told Fox News’s Sean Hannity that House Republicans’ supposed investigation of the 2012 attack on a U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya, was actually an effort to destroy the political prospects of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who was considered the front-runner for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.
He boasted: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known any of that had happened, had we not fought.” In the ensuing uproar, McCarthy’s spokesman issued a statement declaring that the select committee that the Republicans set up had “nothing to do with politics.”
Then there was the leaked recording of a conversation that took place a month before Trump secured the Republican nomination in 2016, in which McCarthy suggested to fellow Republican leaders that Trump might be getting paid by Russian President Vladimir Putin. As others in the room laughed, McCarthy added: “Swear to God.” Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) cautioned everyone there: “No leaks. … This is how we know we’re a real family here.”
Then as now, McCarthy first tried to claim he never made the comments. When confronted by evidence, a spokesman played down his boss’s words as “clearly an attempt at humor.”
All of this is a preview of the embarrassments that lie ahead for Republicans if they allow McCarthy to ascend to the office he so assiduously covets. Give the House minority leader this much: He has shown everyone, more than once, precisely who he is — a dissembler, yes, but one who isn’t shrewd enough to cover his tracks.