Kevin McCarthy Doesn’t Want To Talk About It
Fresh off the heels of the Liz Cheney drama that was ostensibly about not talking about the past, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA23) surprised no one by coming out against the proposed “January 6th commission.”
House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday he was opposed to a bipartisan agreement struck last week that would create an independent commission to investigate the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
McCarthy’s opposition comes ahead of a vote this week that House Democrats have scheduled to pass legislation to create the panel modeled after the 9/11 Commission that would be tasked with investigating the circumstances behind supporters of then-President Donald Trump breaching the Capitol to try to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College vote for President Joe Biden.
In a statement explaining his opposition, McCarthy accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of failing to negotiate in good faith, while saying that the scope of the proposed legislation needed to also look at other episodes of political violence beyond January 6.
“Given the political misdirections that have marred this process, given the now duplicative and potentially counterproductive nature of this effort, and given the Speaker’s shortsighted scope that does not examine interrelated forms of political violence in America, I cannot support this legislation,” McCarthy said.
The bipartisan agreement for the commission was reached by House Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson and the panel’s top Republican, Rep. John Katko of New York, who was one of the 10 House Republicans to vote to impeach Trump in the wake of the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
It is McCarthy’s only play, politically. Any such investigation into January 6th would, if the Democratic Party gets their druthers about it, dig into the actions of GOP members and even McCarthy himself, preferably with those folks under oath. Since he wants to stay the head of his caucus, McCarthy will refuse GOP participation and then proclaim it is a partisan witch hunt for not being bipartisan. If that sounds familiar, it is because it was the same PR front for both Trump impeachments. Which is interesting, since the second of those impeachments was over the events of January 6th and saw ten House Republicans including Cheney and seven GOP Senators vote against the president to make it technically the most bipartisan impeachment ever.
Which brings us to the here and now. After weeks of insisting the l’affaire Cheney victorieuse was about unifying for the future and not talking about the past, and with trips to Mar-a-Lago, there was no way the wannabe 2023 Speaker of the House was going to sign off on months of investigating the ugly end to the Trump years that started 2021. But the Cheney coverage showed the problem with the “just don’t talk about it/moving forward” strategy. Most of the country can’t name the three branches of government, let alone the number three ranked member of the GOP House leadership, but the story was never about Liz Cheney. It was, as all things GOP politics related these days, an avatar to keep talking about Donald Trump. A national media that is yet to detox from covering Trump, not to mention the ratings he brings, isn’t ready to let it go yet. The GOP, having purged nearly all dissent against Trump, has fundraising to do, a mid-term they think they will do well in, and are tantalized by making those 74 million voter who came out in 2020 for Donald Trump permanent Republican ones, so they aren’t over it either. Defenders and supporters of President Trump want their revenge. Democrats, the wider left, and the NeverTrump folks want a reckoning for all things Trump that happened. The new way to keep running all those narratives was to obsess over the Liz Cheney Intramurals for a few weeks.
For his part, McCarthy has adopted a public policy that is akin to sticking his fingers in his ears and going “la-la-la” while anyone tries to tell/ask him about any of it:
“I don’t think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election,” Mr. McCarthy told reporters after meeting with Mr. Biden and congressional leaders at the White House to discuss infrastructure spending. “I think that is all over with. We’re sitting here with the president today. So, from that point of view, I don’t think that’s a problem.”
Except the Arizona GOP, which is beclowning itself funneling money to, and I kid you not here, “Cyber Ninjas” in the clown show that is the so-called “Arizona audit.” Oh, and in Georgia where the state GOP is ripping itself apart to the cheerleading of one Donald J. Trump for the debacle of not just the presidential election but losing both US Senate seats along with even more unfounded allegations of election fraud. And his own caucus that just got done purging a high-profile dissenter over that very subject. So, either Kevin McCarthy doesn’t understand the meaning of “anybody” or he is doing the only politically viable thing he can do and ignoring it, hoping people are too stupid to notice because he really, really wants to be Speaker of the House come 2023.
That is the political terrain Kevin McCarthy finds himself navigating as he tries to get what he really wants, the Speaker of the House job. McCarthy has his own ax to grind here. The top congressional slot eluded him before when the late Walter Jones and others kneecapped him back in 2015 for alleged impropriety. The GOP, not wanting another Gingrich/Hastert-type scandal on their hands, thus went running to get the closest thing to a squeaky-clean boy scout they could find in Paul Ryan instead, leaving McCarthy to bide his time. With the opposition party historically strong in a new president’s first midterm election, and only needing to flip a handful of seats to get the job done, Kevin McCarthy finally has the brass ring that has eluded him within his grasp. Or so he thinks, if he can just be enough things to enough people to get what he really wants for himself in the process.
Thus, the “Don’t talk about it/moving on” strategy. To be fair to McCarthy, it’s probably his only option, but this is a corner he and he alone painted himself into. The problem with this bit of strategery is two-fold. First, the glaring issue that you can’t talk about Trump and the record number Trump voters in 2020 that you want to highlight without bringing attention to what happened next. How many of those 74 million would still vote that way after the riot at the capitol on January 6th perpetrated by folks bedecked in Trump merchandise? The Georgia Senate runoffs were another disaster for the GOP, one that can be squarely set about the fact Donald J. Trump and supporters would not stop talking about stolen elections despite his own party and candidates begging him to. One that portends talking about elections as rigged means not getting your own folks out in numbers to win them. Figuring out how to talk about the one without the other is a puzzle the GOP is going to have to solve.
The second problem is Trump himself. With the expectation that the Trump Rally Roadshow will be picking back up this summer, the odds of Donald Trump getting in front of a microphone without talking about the 2020 election and his viewpoint of being wronged is between nil and nada. With the announcement this week that the former president would be headlining the North Carolina GOP State Convention in June came the caveat that the event would be closed to the press. It will be an interesting test case, in a state Trump spent a lot of time and effort in to keep in the red column in 2022, of folks wanting the fundraising and name power of the former president, but not the unfiltered commentary and attention. The Trumpian diehards may be stuck on the 2020 election, but there are a bunch of folks that live in the post-January 6th world, and trying to pretend the one happened but the other didn’t is going to be a hard sell for anyone not already convinced.
Team Trump has made no secret their priority will be not just the GOP majorities, but in making sure anyone who was against the president in the impeachment post-January 6th is a prime target, which again is impossible to do without talking about the certification vote that the January 6th rioters where aiming to disrupt. Thus is Kevin McCarthy’s Donald Trump problem. He wants the parts of Trump he needs to get his Speakership: the fundraising, the apparatus, the fanatical devotion, the built-in political brand that turned out record 2020 numbers. He doesn’t want the parts of Trump that could derail his bright shining date with the gavel of destiny: the constant harping on 2020, the scorched earth against everyone not named Trump, the non-stop insistence on being cheated in 2020, the truly crazy stuff that comes out of his mouth unprompted. McCarthy’s problem is Donald Trump’s interests lay much more with the latter than the former. Trump has relentlessly been commenting on the utter embarrassment that is the “Arizona audit” which is not a good sign for those wanting to make “don’t talk about it/move on” the theme of the day. Which is going to be a hard sell when “the election was stolen” is the current catechism for the Trump GOP. McCarthy needs a half a Trump to make this all work, when Trumpism only comes in unfiltered, pre-packaged bulk.
Historically and cyclically, the GOP should have a strong mid-term. Despite Donald Trump’s loss of the White House, the Republican Party did quite well in other areas, gaining seats in the House of Representatives and hold onto all the state legislatures they went into the cycle controlling. Thus, the theory by the GOP that they can get some Trump with his supporters without having full Trump on the top of the ticket in 2022. The problem, of course, is there is no such thing as halfway Trump. Donald Trump doesn’t do anything other than be Donald Trump. The idea that the current aggrieved, angry, and vengeful version of the Donald is going to be easier to control or a better team player is foolish. The GOP should do well in the mid-term, but we’ve never had a mid-term like this in our lifetimes, where the former president will be everywhere whether people like it or not. What should happen and what will with so many variables is not the same. Historically the mid-term should be a success, but history also tells us it would be unwise bet against the GOP’s ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory if only they can be one united front. Choose your adventure.
Which is what the House Minority Leader has done here. He made a series of choices that has led him to the brink of being Speaker of the House, but has also built in reasons he might not make it to the big chair after all. Kevin McCarthy is many things, but among them is experienced politico and he knows exactly what he has signed up for here. He wants that Speakership and he long ago made peace with being tied at the hip to Donald J. Trump to get it. He also knows that he is betting on his ability to tiptoe through a minefield to get there. It may well work. It could blow up in his face. So, if you see Kevin McCarthy and he looks shook, it is because he knows better than any of us this simple truth: There’s ain’t no such thing as halfway Trump. And Kevin McCarthy is all in now, and his dream is thiiiiis close.
If he can just reach it.
And if Trump would just behave a little bit and cooperate, and if his own caucus doesn’t turn on him in the next 18 months, and ambitious folks like Elise Stefanik will settle for number three after all that selling of her own integrity and soul and not want his job, and if Walter Jones stays dead and doesn’t kneecap him this time, and if a million other things line up just right…
But he really doesn’t want to talk about that.