Judging from today’s press coverage of the Kevin McCarthy dust-up, you’d think the fires of the hereafter were about to embrace him and his political career whole.
McCarthy, whose relationship with the truth perpetually veers toward the squishy, suffered two mortifications at the hands of the press on Thursday. First, New York Times reporters Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin reported from their forthcoming book, This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for America’s Future, that in a Jan. 10, 2021 call to top Republicans, McCarthy had said Donald Trump should resign from the presidency. “‘I’ve had it with this guy,’ he told a group of Republican leaders,” Burns and Martin wrote.
“Totally false,” McCarthy immediately protested in a statement, and his office denied that he had said Trump should resign. Then came McCarthy’s second indignity as that night MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow played an audio recording, provided by the Times, of McCarthy that proved the Burns and Martin report. Sensing McCarthy’s political corpse was aflame, the press bore down on the House minority leader this morning. “Is Kevin McCarthy toast?” asked my WEBICNEWS colleagues. “The Humiliation of Kevin McCarthy,” gloated the Bulwark’s Charlie Sykes. McCarthy got it in the neck from both members of the commentariat and from Capitol Hill legislators. Trump sycophant Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) went so far as to blast his colleague on Twitter over the disclosure.
It would be nice if getting caught lying dramatically on tape might disqualify a politician from public life, or if, as McCarthy has done, oscillating from supporting Trump to criticizing Trump to sucking up to him again would exile him from the corridors of power. But neither is the case. As long as McCarthy executes a proper grovel to mollify Trump and keeps a brave face, the pain of getting found out will cause him no more permanent harm than a bad haircut. The Washington capacity to sweep transgressions under the carpet and forget them goes unmatched in American life.
During the Jan. 6 episode, McCarthy briefly turned against Trump. According to press reports, McCarthy engaged Trump in an “expletive-laced phone call” as the riot boiled over and he begged the president to call off the sacking of the Capitol. In the days immediately following the rampage, McCarthy said, “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” He also said Trump acknowledged “some responsibility“ for the riot.
But by the end of January 2021, McCarthy had flown to Mar-a-Lago to bow and scrape before Trump. By July, he was dodging questions about whether he still thought Trump was responsible for the riot. Earlier this year, he spurned an invitation to testify in the House Select Committee’s Jan. 6 investigation. Everything we needed to know about McCarthy’s spine, his reliability as a Jan. 6 narrator, and his willingness to unearth the truth about that day has already unfolded. Like Trump, who has become his role model, McCarthy is like the child holding a piece of his mother’s priceless vase that he has just broken and who will say anything he needs to say to deflect blame and restore his innocence.
Did anybody in Washington ever mistake McCarthy for a principled truthteller? As the boys and girls on Wall Street remind us daily, news that’s equally distributed gets discounted into a stock’s price. Everybody knows that McCarthy 1) wobbles when nervous; 2) regrets his moments of integrity; 3) can run as fast backward as forward; and 4) craves master Trump’s soothing words. McCarthy, as he’s long advertised, intends to become speaker, assuming Republicans take the House in November, so there’s plenty of time between now and then for him to remind his fellow Republicans that Jan. 6 was a long time ago, that he’s willing to haul whatever garbage Trump dumps on the Mar-a-Lago loading dock, and that everything is OK now. Besides, does Trump have a better candidate than McCarthy for speaker? Anybody in a leadership position who frisks around the room with such abandon when Trump rattles the leash and promises a walk?
Such redemption would be impossible for somebody who committed similar transgressions at their workplace, at their social club or their place of worship. They’d be as welcome as a squadron of murder hornets at a picnic. But this is Congress and these are Republicans and they have, thanks to Trump’s tweets, Trump’s TV confrontations with Jim Acosta, and Trump’s characterization of the press as the enemy, conditioned their supporters to reflexively distrust critical journalism. McCarthy appears to have already gotten out his jam with Trump, according to The Washington Post, which reports that the two talked last night and that Trump was not upset. Instead, he was delighting over his continued control over the Republican Party.
Today, Kevin McCarthy stands as bare naked and shivering as a freshly shorn spring sheep. But having toadied to Lord Trump once more and rubbed a couple of bottles of political Rogaine on himself, McCarthy can expect to see his hide restored to its full and lush furriness in a few months.