How the Trump-McCarthy Romance Ends

trump and mccarthy
Photo by Michael Kovac/WireImage
Tina Nguyen
April 22, 2022

Oh, how fast things have fallen for Kevin McCarthy. One morning, he’s vehemently denying claims, published in a new book by New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alex Burns, that he said he would ask Donald Trump to resign, shortly after the former president goaded a mob into storming the U.S. Capitol. And then later that night, he’s immediately proven wrong—by a recording of him actually saying: “I think [an impeachment resolution] will pass, and it would be my recommendation that you resign.” Suddenly, all of his defenses slagging the Times fell flat: one can’t particularly blame the “corporate media” for pushing a falsehood if they’re actually right. Overnight, McCarthy’s presumed likelihood to become House Speaker later this year, when the G.O.P. assumedly wins the House, was instantaneously second-guessed.

Is McCarthy actually toast? It’s a little more nuanced. Overall, the diehard Trumpy wing of the party has always held McCarthy in suspicion for what they view as his wavering support of the former president, and this recording simply confirms that. This is a massive political problem for a movement that rewards Day One loyalty. (That, and he just simply reeks of establishmentarianism, by virtue of being a Republican politician who existed before Trump came to Washington.) More recently, however, he’s had a target painted on his back by the unofficial MAGA wing of the Republican caucus. Indeed, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene told Matt Gaetz last November that McCarthy “doesn’t have full support [in the G.O.P.] to be Speaker” should the party take over the House in the midterms. I’d always assumed that a push from Greene and Gaetz—potentially backed by Rep Paul Gosar and, possibly, Lauren Boebert—to get an alternative speaker nominated would be dead on arrival, and at the moment, I think that might still be the case. But the odds of an insurrection just went up. “He’ll be lucky to survive the next conference meeting,” said Reed Galen, a longtime G.O.P. operative and co-founder of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. “If the rank and file believe they’re going to take the House with or without him, they may throw him overboard.”

McCarthy, for his part, has about eight months to turn things around and salvage his career, and not just by building a House Majority with non-MAGA G.O.P. representatives. Naturally, this being Washington, there is a playbook for such retroactive Trump affection-seeking, even post-Capitol riots. With the right type of Lindsey Graham-style groveling (Graham had publicly stated after January 6th that he’d “had enough” of Trump, and yet remains one of Trump’s most public defenders), he can certainly win his way back into Trump’s personal good graces. He’s already done it once before, when he made a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago in early 2021, one week after Trump left office, to repent for his light chastisement of the president’s incendiary behavior on Jan 6th. Trump’s public largesse can certainly stave off the nationalist-populist attacks on McCarthy—the two reportedly spoke on Thursday, and Trump was allegedly unpreturbed—but I don’t know if that wing will accept that as a full-fledged pardon and a sign to forgive him. 

My apocalyptic yet informed opinion, based on conversations with my MAGA-world soothsayers, is that they’ve always wanted McCarthy gone, and this gives them the best pretext to do so. If, for example, there is additional corroboration for Martin and Burns’s claim that McCarthy wanted Big Tech to deplatform House members who had supported the Capitol riot—“Can’t they take their Twitter accounts away, too?” he allegedly asked colleagues—then his MAGA credentials are kaput. That said, one MAGA-oriented consultant told me it would be an uphill climb to find someone in the House G.O.P. who’d have the dual resources to credibly challenge McCarthy while simultaneously assuaging MAGAworld. “No one has the guts to challenge him who has a chance,” he said. “No one.”

And, frankly, Martin and Burns’ book may be only one of his headaches. Hilariously, there’s been a meme floating around, echoed by people like Gaetz, that suggests a G.O.P.-led House should elect Trump to be Speaker in January 2023. (Yes, that’s a viable option under the Constitution.) Wild and reckless for the sake of short-term, RINO-owning victory? Sure, and Trump would never accept a demotion like that. But the chaos theory, well, that’s MAGA for you.  

DeSantis’s Calculus

Speaking of reckless short-term political gains: “Mouse vs. MAGA” was not on my bingo card going into 2022. (I was saving that for 2025.) But then again, going to war with the Walt Disney Corporation over an educational bill wasn’t on Governor Ron DeSantis’s bingo card, either, given the number of corporate carve outs the Florida legislature had granted Disney over the years. Neither was his collecting Mickey’s scalp over the company’s opposition to a bill targeting elementary school curriculum about gender and sexual identity. By the time you read this, DeSantis and the Florida legislature may already have revoked Disney’s special tax status in the state, meaning that, among other punishments, the Disneyworld theme parks could be hit with a massive tax bill, all for lobbying against this bill. 

Right now, it’s unclear whether this will have become a very costly mistake or a pyrrhic victory for residents of the state of Florida, as Mediaite contributing editor and Florida lawyer Sarah Rumpf lays out here. It also seems likely that a judge would overturn the law over First Amendment considerations, as Hot Air’s Allahpundit, senior editor for the longstanding conservative news blog, argues here. (In short, it’s highly legally dubious to eliminate Disney’s special tax district to punish the company for political speech, and the region’s residents may end up paying far more in taxes.) But what’s clear is that this is an unmitigated victory for Team DeSantis and the MAGA wing that he may one day lead—yes, even if Trump runs again. 

Although polling on the so-called Don’t Say Gay bill is hard to pin down, the calculus inside Tallahassee goes like this: there was evidence that the bill had some traction among Democrats, and not enough opposition to counter the groundswell of Republican voters who actively supported it. DeSantis is already popular in the state, coasting off a wave of popularity over his fight against mask mandates and vaccines. According to polls taken prior to the controversy, DeSantis, who is up for reelection on November 8th, was already likely to wipe the floor against his eventual Democratic opponent by double digits. 

Florida’s large community of Hispanic voters, even non-Cubans, might vote Democrat but skew more socially conservative, as do older Democrat voters, and both might have a hard time accepting liberal orthodoxy on transgenderism, much less the idea that children might be exposed to concepts like gender fluidity in elementary school. (Opponents of the legislation argue that its real intention is to scare LGBT teachers back into the closet and prevent any discussion of same-sex parents; the language of the bill itself is intentionally vague.) Meanwhile, it’s assumed, the average Floridian doesn’t care for big corporations trying to flex their power to overturn a law—even one as magical as Disney. “If anything, Disney’s the one shooting up at” DeSantis, said one state Republican operative. 

When I asked the question haunting Trump at night—what does this mean for DeSantis 2024?—the operative shrugged. “He doesn’t have a story to tell until November 9th. Everything before then is premature.” But should he win reelection—and it’s highly probable that he does, barring some spectacular incident—DeSantis will have the Culture War credibility that no one else in the G.O.P. can claim. Unlike senators who pontificated in Congress but could not get MAGA-friendly bills passed, or that guy in Mar-a-Lago who had his chance for four years and blew it, DeSantis can lay claim to having governed a state against every cultural controversy that liberals threw at him: C.D.C.-backed Covid mandates, cruise ship lockdowns, the specter of “critical race theory.” He signed a 15-week abortion ban without exceptions for rape or incest, imposed bans on the teaching of critical race theory in public schools, and proposed an “anti-mob” bill that would have allowed gun owners to kill suspected looters. 

For a party that values lib-triggering as the highest form of politics, that’s one hell of a resume. “He has to actually run this thing through the finish line,” my G.O.P. operative source cautioned. “Then he has a story to tell that nobody can remotely come close to.”

Ambassador Eric Trump

Every so often, I take a deep breath and plunge my head into the depths of the conspiratorial QAnon community. In the months since January 6th, the extremely online Q community has attempted to rebrand itself, once again, as a broader movement—applying its apocalyptic, pedophile-hunting, string-on-a-corkboard worldview to less insurrection-y topics du jour, from vaccine mandates to stolen elections to, yes, Disney World. And increasingly, I keep seeing Eric Trump pop up in person. He’s become a regular speaker, for instance, at the ReAwaken America Tours, a traveling, quasi-Christian nationalist conference event run by an Oklahoma businessman named Clay Clark that frequently brings in social media influencers, such as Gen. Michael Flynn and Lin Wood, to rail against vaccine mandates and so-called stolen elections. (Among many other things, Clark himself has talked openly about “the Satanic Luciferian Left,” called vaccines “Satanic,” and suggested there would soon be a “Great Awakening”—another QAnon codeword—across the country.) 

There are ways to nod to Q World without openly engaging, face to face, with its most unsavory aspects. (Connecting Democrats to pedophiles, for instance, has become easy political leverage for G.O.P. presidential aspirants.) But Eric has historically gone a step further than everyone else: back in June 2020, he posted a giant Q on his Instagram account, along with the hashtag #WWG1WGA—“Where we go one, we go all”—the motto of the movement. He quickly deleted it, but it was up long enough to make the “digital soldiers” salivate, seeing a possible ally inside the Trump family. At one recent ReAwaken America event, Eric went so far as to call his father “the real president” and put Trump on speaker phone, to the delight of the roaring crowd. Just last month, Eric accepted a painting of his father standing, quite coincidentally, in front of a giant Q. 

Interestingly, you won’t see anyone else in Trumpworld engaging with this crowd at this level. Even Don Jr., who’s one of the most prominent voices in the MAGA wing of the party, seems wary of the reputational damage that conspicuous Q-baiting invites. Eric, who is still an executive V.P. at The Trump Organization, keeps his social media Q-free, too—it’s mostly limited to Trump memes and Trump Winery ads.  But no one in the mainstream media has been paying much attention to Eric’s travels—only the conspiracy theorists hoping desperately to capture some of the Trump magic. “Bringing Eric Trump to this event is now legitimizing what we’re doing to the minds of many people,” Clark said on his show back in December. As for what Eric gets out of it, who knows? It may be classic middle child syndrome or, perhaps, he simply enjoys spending his weekends at San Diego suburban megachurches.