If you'd seen the House minority leader Kevin McCarthy's panel discussion on Saturday at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) after being in a coma for four months, you wouldn't just believe there wasn't a January 6 riot aimed at that to overthrow former President Donald Trump's election loss, but that Trump actually won a second term.
McCarthy's remarks in particular – and CPAC 2021 in general – illustrate how the Republican establishment's second thoughts on Trump fell by the wayside after the uprising. And they recalled that despite losing re-election, Trump remains a popular and therefore powerful figure in the Republican Party.
McCarthy did not make the former president the focus of his remarks, but was quick to praise Trump at the start of his event, paying tribute to the former president for the Republicans who got seats in the House of Representatives after last November's election.
"President Trump has worked on all of these races," McCarthy said, later adding, "Even if President Trump had Covid … he would phone these rallies for each district and he would have the candidate and then he would. " would talk and he would cast the votes. "
McCarthy didn't talk much about Trump during his CPAC panel discussion other than being attributed to Republicans who got seats in the House of Representatives last November pic.twitter.com/jzyartRYb4
– Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 27, 2021
"Look – we're going to keep doing exactly what we did in the last election," McCarthy said elsewhere.
The rest of the CPAC have a similar tone. Despite President Joe Biden's crucial referendum and electoral college victory over Trump – and Trump's shameful efforts to overthrow the elections during the transition to a new administration – CPAC served as the cult celebration of the former president in 2021. None of the few remaining prominent anti-Trump Republicans were invited to speak, and no criticism of the former president was voiced.
With that in mind, perhaps the most revealing remark during McCarthy's panel discussion came from Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), who, like many of his Republican colleagues, skipped the vote on the Covid-19 Aid Act so he could appear at the CPAC.
"The most popular Republican figure in Congress today is Kevin McCarthy," said Banks. "Let me tell you who are the least popular Republicans in the party today – the few Republicans who want to remove supporters of Donald Trump and Donald Trump from our party."
Rep. Jim Banks: "The most popular Republican figure in Congress today is Kevin McCarthy. Let me tell you who the least popular Republicans in the party today are – it is the few Republicans who are wiping out supporters of Donald Trump and Donald Trump want from our party. "pic.twitter.com/LBo7ZUBjVu
– Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 27, 2021
Banks' observations of anti-Trump Republicans may technically be true, but what he didn't mention is that Trump has demeaned the popularity of all GOP officials. A recent Forbes piece by Andrew Solender explains:
Republicans have the lowest ratings (by national politicians) with House minority leader Kevin McCarthy falling 20 points, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) 30 points, and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell 44 points falling just 17% favoritism and 61% inconvenience.
Still, McCarthy's decision to stand behind Trump contains political calculation, even after criticizing him in the days after the uprising.
Trump may not be popular in general, but he remains overwhelmingly popular with the GOP base – a recent Politico / Morning Consult poll found that 79 percent of Republicans rated Trump positively, while McCarthy received just 34 percent support among Republicans. And a recent USA Today / Suffolk University study found that 46 percent of Republicans said they would leave the GOP if Trump were to start his own political party.
It is Trump who can decide the fate of the GOP and individual lawmakers, and he has made it clear in the past that he values those lawmakers who are loyal to him. But there are also signs that the level of loyalty McCarthy has shown so far may not be enough for Trump, however scratchy it may be.
Trump is reportedly considering denouncing McCarthy during his CPAC speech on Sunday
McCarthy initially had some doubts about Trump.
For example, during the 2016 presidential campaign, it was recorded that he believed Trump was literally on Vladimir Putin's payroll. But during Trump's tenure as president, McCarthy, who served as the majority leader of the House until Republicans lost a majority in 2018 and then named minority leader of the House, became one of Trump's most determined congressional defenders.
McCarthy made up far-fetched arguments to defend Trump during his first impeachment, including the fact that there is a precedent against impeachment of presidents in their first term, and went so far as to patronize and promote Trump's private business. He reiterated Trump's lies about the FBI investigation that his relationship with Russia was tantamount to a "modern coup," citing Wikipedia changes when he sat next to Donald Trump Jr. at last year's CPAC as evidence that great Tech companies are biased against Republicans.
Even after Trump lost the election last November, McCarthy went to Fox News and upheld his catastrophic response to the coronavirus as an example of "remarkable" governance. He defended a taped phone call from Trump attempting to harass the Georgian Foreign Secretary to throw his loss there as evidence that he was "always concerned about the integrity of the elections".
War is peace. Trump's call to harass the Georgian Foreign Minister to help him steal the elections shows that, according to Kevin McCarthy, he "has always been concerned about the integrity of the elections". pic.twitter.com/3FPTefLREx
– Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 4, 2021
However, for a brief moment after the deadly January 6 riot, which Trump encouraged, McCarthy's tune changed a little. While voting with 146 other Republicans to overturn the election results, McCarthy delivered a speech in the House of Representatives on Jan. 13 saying Trump "was responsible for the attack on Congress on Wednesday".
But when it became clear that the Republican base was staying with Trump, McCarthy quickly fell back into line. Just eight days after he said Trump "was responsible" for the uprising, McCarthy said basically the opposite during a press conference.
"I don't think he provoked it," McCarthy said, referring to the January 6 uprising.
But that remarkable flip-flop apparently wasn't enough to keep McCarthy in Trump's good hands. Trump is now reportedly subdued that McCarthy stood by House Republican Conference Chairman Liz Cheney (R-WY), even after Cheney voted for Trump's second impeachment.
The GOP split between the large MAGA faction that McCarthy represents and the much smaller anti-Trump faction led by Cheney was illustrated in a scene on Wednesday when McCarthy told a reporter he was thinking during a press conference , Trump should speak at CPAC. He was immediately contradicted by Cheney, who stood behind him, saying, "I don't think (Trump) should have a role in the future of the party."
"On that note, thank you very much," McCarthy quipped before moving away from reporters.
At an awkward moment, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) disagree on whether former President Trump should attend CPAC. pic.twitter.com/J43K3ZH0QD
– The recount (@therecount) February 24, 2021
Trump is reportedly concerned that McCarthy did not expel her from the party, but rather helped her maintain her leadership position in the House's Republican caucus – which sparked uncomfortable scenes like Wednesday's. Tara Palmeri provided the full context in Saturday's Politico Playbook:
Three people near Trump Tell me he's braising again KEVIN MCCARTHY. It has become so common that his advisors believe the minority leader of the House may receive a public reprimand. That's even after the pow wow in Mar-a-Lago, where McCarthy tried to put things right after denouncing Trump about the violence on Jan. 6.
The reason for Trump's displeasure: an encouraged Cheney.
Each time Cheney criticizes Trump from her leadership position As Republican of House No. 3, he has recalled that it was McCarthy who asked his conference to keep her chairman – despite her vote to indict Trump. The final trigger came on Wednesday when Cheney said at a press conference that Trump should stop running the party while McCarthy stood awkwardly by.
McCarthy in particular, and CPAC spokesmen in general, have opposed Cheney in this dispute. Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) claimed during his speech on Friday that Cheney would be booed if she showed up at the CPAC, and he's not wrong. But this Trump is even considering publicly scourging McCarthy just for not going to work to clean up the handful of Republicans in the House who voted for Trump's impeachment. This reflects the extent to which the party has transformed into a personality cult – one that has survived the death of the Führer defeated.
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