Will It Matter That Kevin McCarthy Was Caught Lying?
Anyone familiar with Betteridge's law of headlines knows where this is going.
As most readers have probably heard by now, the last few days have not been particularly good ones for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. The TL;DR version is that he got caught lying about a number of things he said in private in the days immediately following the January 6th riots:
The Republican Party is facing a new moment of reckoning tied to its top leaders and the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
It follows the release of two private audio conversations involving House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy, including a new tape in which he claims Trump admitted some responsibility for the insurrection.
“I’ve been very clear to the president: He bears responsibility for his words and actions, no ifs ands or buts,” McCarthy is heard telling the House Republican conference in a Jan. 11, 2021 call. “I asked him personally today does he hold responsibility for what happened? Does he feel bad about what happened? He told me he does have some responsibility for what happened … And he needs to acknowledge that.”
That tape was released on Friday as part of a book tour for New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns, who have shared new details about the Republican ire that played out behind closed doors soon after the siege.Reporting by NRP: https://www.npr.org/2022/04/23/1094396209/republicans-face-a-new-reckoning-over-what-gop-house-leader-mccarthy-said-about-
A day earlier, Martin and Burns shared another McCarthy tape from a Jan. 10, 2021 House Republican leadership call. Before the audio was released late Thursday, McCarthy had denied he recommended Trump resign during that call. However, the tape exposed that was a lie.
Ok, so Kevin McCarthy is a bold-faced liar. Worse as others have pointed out, he lied about having a (most likely rare) moment of conscience and seeing January 6th for the awful event it was. However, the sentence that immediately follows the ones above in Claudia Grisales’ article brings everything into perspective (not to mention defuses the drama of her article’s lead):
But that lie might not mean much to McCarthy’s hopes to be the next House speaker if Republicans win control of the chamber next year.
Years ago, someone wisely shared with me that “but”, when used as a conjunction, has the effect on the reader of negating everything that came before it. And, sadly, I think that is the case (hence the subhead of this article).
Yes, McCarthy lied. No, it most likely doesn’t matter.
It’s worth unpacking why it doesn’t matter, and the implications for US Politics in the 2022 election and beyond.
In terms of the 2022 election, I think James’ article from earlier today covers most of that. The reality is that ultimately most Republican voters, at best, don’t care about January 6th. At this point, that needs to be accepted as fact. It might generally embarrass them to the point of pretending it didn’t happen (again, as I have pointed out multiple times, Jan 6th posts on OTB have historically been to our few remaining conservative commenters as a cross is to vampires. All you have to do is write about it and folks scatter). However, there is no indication that it will depress turnout in any serious way. After all, if you are positioning the other party as child abusers, there’s a moral responsibility to keep voting Republican.
It is possible that McCarthy could face a stronger primary challenge. However, currently, he’s running unopposed in his new district. And according to reporting after the lies were made public, he’s still got the support of former President Trump. One might wonder why the notoriously thin-skinned Trump is still supporting McCarthy. My cynical take is that all McCarthy’s gaff has done is provide Trump with more leverage. Trump already knows from his past behavior around Jan 6th that McCarthy will collapse like a house of cards. That makes McCarthy an asset to the former CiC.
That leaves us with a single question: barring something truly spectacular, the Republicans are on track to retake the House (in part because modern Americans have come to like the idea of a divided Federal government). Provided that’s the case, how does this impact McCarthy’s chances of regaining the position of Speaker of the House?
First, let me admit that I’m a notoriously crappy prognosticator–almost Dick Morris level. So salt what follows liberally. Unless something far more damaging surfaces, I think this is a net neutral. In terms of actions, McCarthy has firmly stayed pro-Trump whenever it mattered. Will this drive a deeper wedge between him and the Freedom Caucus? Sure. But that was party support he was never going to have to begin with.
I think he’s still in a precarious position. Jim Jordan from Ohio still has a chance to replace him as Speaker. That said, I think the Republican version of respectability politics (i.e. let’s continue to pretend that January 6th didn’t happen) wins out and McCarthy remains the front runner for Speaker. Additionally, provided that Trump remains the presumptive frontrunner for 2022, there are a lot of Republicans that have convinced themselves that while Trump is better than any Democrat, it’s still good to have him surrounded by people who can curve his “excesses.” If that analysis is correct, then McCarthy is the best option they have.
And, as the “there’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump” incident reminds us, this isn’t the first time that McCarthy has been caught speaking out in private against Trump. He didn’t lose his Speakership then. I don’t see him losing it now.