You know who doesn’t like Rep. Kevin McCarthy? Kevin McCarthy’s mentor.
“The Kevin McCarthy who is now, at this time, in the House isn’t the Kevin McCarthy I worked with,” former Rep. Bill Thomas, 81, told The New Yorker this week. Thomas served as a mentor to Mr. McCarthy as both were Republican lawmakers from California.
Mr. Thomas described his former protégé as mendacious, always on the lookout for what can benefit him politically.
“Kevin basically is whatever you want him to be. He lies. He’ll change the lie if necessary. How can anyone trust his word?” Mr. Thomas said. “He’s the guy in the college fraternity that everybody liked and winds up selling life insurance, convincing people they need it.”
The scathing New Yorker article comes just as Mr. McCarthy is trying to talk his fellow Republicans into voting for him as the new speaker of the House. The current minority leader has made a lot of enemies along the way, and at least five Republicans have already said they won’t support him.
That’s a big problem because the GOP controls the chamber by a thin 222-213 margin, and losing five votes would put Mr. McCarthy below the 218-vote majority he needs to wield the gavel.
A week after the dismal showing by the GOP in the 2022 midterm elections, Mr. McCarthy won the Republican Party’s nomination to become the next speaker of the House. But then all hell broke loose, and now, it’s all up in the air.
The GOP caucus is fractured: A slew of splinter caucuses are battling for a share of power, meaning the California congressman has got to be all things to all people.
The conservative House Freedom Caucus has made numerous moves to be a central power broker in the GOP. The caucus, made up of 30 to 40 Republicans, last month sent potential new members a 55-page “Road Map” for the party, with a host of proposed rule changes, many of which sought to reduce the power of party leaders.
Other cliques are also looking for power. One known as the Problem Solvers Caucus pledges to be a centrist band that can help the GOP win battles in the House but will look for bipartisan support from Democrats.
Politico reported that the co-leaders of the Problem Solvers Caucus, Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, Pennsylvania Republican, and Josh Gottheimer, New Jersey Democrat, met for dinner. They talked about changes that could unify and empower the 50 or so members of their group, including one idea that it would endorse only bills that have Republican and Democratic co-sponsors when introduced.
Then there’s the Main Street Caucus, which touts itself on Twitter as “the 2nd largest Caucus of Republicans in the House,” adding that its top priorities are “implementing pro-growth policies for small business owners, fostering economic and individual prosperity [and] delivering results for the American people.”
“It’s time we flex our muscles,” Rep. Don Bacon, Nebraska Republican, co-leader of the Main Street Caucus, said, according to Newsmax.
The situation is getting even weirder.
House members “say preliminary conversations are happening among Republicans and Democrats about a possible contingency candidate if McCarthy cannot win the gavel after multiple ballots in the new GOP-majority House next month,” The Hill reported.
“We’ve had preliminary talks with the Democrats,” Mr. Bacon told reporters, according to C-SPAN. “If we have multiple, multiple votes, and they’re not willing to support what the far majority of the conference wants to do, we’re not going to be held hostage by them.”
And to make everything even weirder, former President Donald Trump has entered the game, backing Mr. McCarthy’s bid for speaker.
“Look, I think this: Kevin has worked very hard,” Mr. Trump said. “He is just — it’s been exhausting. If you think he’s been all over. I think he deserves the shot. Hopefully, he’s going to be very strong and going to be very good, and he’s going to do what everybody wants.”
Mr. McCarthy was a big Trump cheerleader, but that ship has sailed. With the release of egocentric NFTs showing Mr. Trump as Superman, among other bizarre cartoons, Republicans are busy moving on from The Don.
And Mr. McCarthy has miffed moderates, meaning he’s got very few paths that lead to holding the gavel.
The New Yorker piece summed it up: “‘Everyone knows the joke,’ a former House staffer told me. “‘All Kevin McCarthy cares about is Kevin McCarthy. He is the man for this moment.’ His main strength has always been his malleability. There are no red lines, core policy beliefs, or inviolable principles, just a willingness to adapt to the moods of his conference.”
That’s gotta hurt.
Mr. McCarthy will turn just 58 next month, but he is, weirdly, part of the Old Guard. Democrats smartly cleared their decks — when Speaker Nancy Pelosi, 81, announced she would step down from a leadership role next year, second-in-command Rep. Steny Hoyer, 83, and third-in-command Rep. James Clyburn, 82, announced they’re stepping down, too.
Want weirder? The election of the speaker happens before the House sets the rules for the 118th Congress, meaning the vote is not beholden to the chamber’s standard operating procedures. If Mr. McCarthy doesn’t win on the first ballot, all hell breaks loose.
And that’s just how dysfunctional Republicans can be.
• Joseph Curl covered the White House and politics for a decade for The Washington Times. He can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @josephcurl.