Will It Matter That Kevin McCarthy Was Caught Lying?

Anyone familiar with Betteridge's law of headlines knows where this is going.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said earlier Thursday that reports that he said former President Trump should resign in the wake of the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol were false. Then the reporters who broke the news played the tapes.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images file photo

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.

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.

Reporting by NRP: https://www.npr.org/2022/04/23/1094396209/republicans-face-a-new-reckoning-over-what-gop-house-leader-mccarthy-said-about-

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.

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Matt Bernius
About Matt Bernius
Matt Bernius is a design researcher working to create more equitable government systems and experiences. He's currently a Principal User Researcher on Code for America's "GetCalFresh" program, helping people apply for SNAP food benefits in California. Prior to joining CfA, he worked at Measures for Justice and at Effective, a UX agency. Matt has an MA from the University of Chicago.


  1. senyordave says:

    To people who vote Republican, no. They will know it is fake news.

  2. Matt Bernius says:


    To people who vote Republican, no. They will know it is fake news.

    I don’t think that’s fair. I think, to the degree that they hear about this (thank you news deserts) I think a lot will hear it, believe it, and not care. Or rather, McCarthy doesn’t represent their district (so he might be a bum, but he’s not their bum).

    And again, ultimately, any Republican, for many of them, is better than even the best Democrat (because the best Democrat would be a Republican).

  3. MarkedMan says:

    Republican base voters have demonstrated for years that moral issues have no impact on their choice. As long as he doesn’t apologize and continues to attack the libs he will be fine.

  4. senyordave says:

    @Matt Bernius: You know far more about this than I do, but I believe there is a significant percentage of Republicans who believe any story like this is overplayed or taken completely out of context because it comes from CNN or MSNBC or network news. They are in a cocoon of Fox, One America, Breitbart, etc., where it will never be mentioned.
    I agree that even those who believe it will not care for the most part. If they do care they’ll just be pissed at McCarthy, mostly for saying it and also for getting caught.

  5. Matt Bernius says:


    You know far more about this than I do, but I believe there is a significant percentage of Republicans who believe any story like this is overplayed or taken completely out of context

    Honestly, I probably don’t. I try to limit my writings one politics because that really isn’t my beat (and I don’t think I have ever taken a formal Poli Sci course in my life–sorry James and Steven).

    I actually think I’m in agreement with the above. I also question the degree to which that specific reaction is “fake news,” unless like “judicial activism,” the term has come to represent everything I disagree with the handling/reporting of.

    If they do care they’ll just be pissed at McCarthy, mostly for saying it and also for getting caught.

    That feels right to me. I just don’t think they will be pissed enough to want to get rid of him or remove him from the speakership. Much like you’re home town sportball team, he might be a bum, but he’s your bum.

  6. Matt Bernius says:


    Republican base voters have demonstrated for years that moral issues have no impact on their choice.

    That’s not entirely true. It’s just the moral issues have to be ones they care about. Trump’s a perfect example of all the moral issues they don’t care about.

    Anything involving LGBTQI issues or significant financial corruption (see Duncan Hunter) will most likely depress outcomes. See, for example, the election of 2006 (which, OMG, was almost 20 years ago… I’m off to rock in a corner in the fetal position).

  7. EddieInCA says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    I think you’re being naive.


    50% of the country won’t even hear about the McCarthy tapes.

    Fox won’t mention it.
    Sinclair won’t mention it.
    OANN won’t mention it.

  8. DK says:

    No, because the story for Trump and Republicans is not McQarthy’s craven dishonesty and ambition, but his willingness to humiliate himself for — and sell his soul to — Trumpism.

    McQarthy’s desperate self-flagellation will keep him in the GQP’s good graces. What he says in private is irrelevant. All that matters is public fealty to Drama Queen Donnie. Perversely, the dissonance strengthens McQarthy, because it demonstrates Trump’s hold on the right: Trump haters know that whatever they think privately, publicly they still must bend the knee to Moscow-a-Lago.

    House Republicans should skip the pathetic middleman and plan to make Trump speaker.

  9. Matt Bernius says:

    I totally agree with that point. It was what I was hinting at when I wrote: “to the degree that they hear about this (thank you news deserts).” The reality is that in most rural areas, options beyond the ones you just listed are gone.

    Additionally, a lot of people choose to live in closed media ecosystems.

    I’m not sure it’s 50%, but I COMPLETELY agree that a not insignificant part “of the country won’t even hear about the McCarthy tapes.”

  10. Michael Cain says:


    House Republicans should skip the pathetic middleman and plan to make Trump speaker.

    Trump is far too lazy to be Speaker. Plus he’d have to stay in Washington, and provide his own housing.

  11. CSK says:

    @Michael Cain:
    I think Trump said he has no interest in being Speaker. You have to get out of bed, after all.

  12. Hal_10000 says:


    A lot of them are; in the context of McCarthy being a RINO traitor and someone more MAGA being needed for the future Speakership.

  13. Jen says:

    If anything comes of this at all, it will be due to Republican infighting in an attempt to grab leadership.

    Rick Wilson pointed to Elise Stefanik as the likely source of the leaked audio, after some Republicans were trying to run back over Liz Cheney (again). Nasty business, this ladder-climbing.