A strange dynamic is brewing in the bewitching Kevin McCarthy Speakership race: the right-wing media is actually defanging the Freedom Caucus’s attempt to tank his leadership bid. Charlie Kirk, Mark Levin, John Cardillo, Jack Posobiec, Will Chamberlain, Mike Cernovich, Ned Ryun and others are actually roasting McCarthy’s MAGA antagonists—Reps. Matt Gaetz, Bob Good, Andy Biggs, Matt Rosendale, and Ralph Norman—in defense of the minority leader. Even Tucker Carlson, who is not a fan of McCarthy and has said that his “Commitment to America” policy package contains “nothing real,” has not encouraged a MAGA rebellion.
Cardillo recently accused Gaetz of putting his personal hatred for McCarthy ahead of the movement. Breitbart’s Matt Boyle warned of a “doomsday scenario” if the group doesn’t support McCarthy. And Levin called the five public nos the “Gang of Five Saboteurs.” As one conservative strategist who was involved in the John Boehner coup told me, “These guys must be shocked that Levin, Kirk, Breitbart are lighting them up.”
Gaetz, despite the way these MAGA Twitter blue-checks are targeting him, has continued to treat McCarthy like a political pinata, and he told me on Monday that he and the four other public nays are immovable. But how immovable is immovable, really?
While the anti-establishment crowd has little love for McCarthy, they are more fearful that Democrats could somehow organize themselves and choose a moderate Republican speaker. (Cernovich, breathing that fear, tweeted that McCarthy was preferable to a “moderate puppet.”) It also helps that McCarthy spent the last year building alliances with MAGA icons like Stephen Miller, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jim Jordan. But he did support moderates against right-wing challengers in the primaries, angering the Freedom Caucus along the way. This right-wing chorus for McCarthy also takes pressure off of Trump to prove his MAGA cred by politically beheading his on-again, off-again ally. In the meantime, McCarthy needs to peel off at least one of the five public nos. And as Gaetz suggests, they are still pretty dug in—at least for now.
Pompeo: Third Party-Curious?
Despite all his West Point, Harvard Law School, and C.I.A. credibility, Mike Pompeo spent much of his career as a Koch supplicant and Trump ring-kisser, an opportunist’s opportunist who knows how to expertly conceal his ambition under the veneer of umbrage. And yet Pompeo’s most recent bout of opportunism might seem a bit far-fetched: In October, the one-day presumptive Republican presidential contender flew to Dallas to meet with No Labels, the bipartisan group that is pushing for a third party ticket on the ballot in 2024.
No Labels, as I’ve reported in the past, has been stoking interest among its wealthy Wall Street (and Wall Street-adjacent) supporters interested in a third party challenge to a presumptive Trump-Biden rematch. The group is pitching the candidacy as an “insurance policy,” a source in their network told me, which is appealing to donors who are petrified of a 2020 grudge match. Pompeo’s meeting was attended by No Labels founder Nancy Jacobson and disgraced former journalist Mark Halperin, who works for the organization.
While it’s obviously too early to speculate on anything, the third party curiosity would make Pompeo the latest former Trump aide to openly contemplate taking on his old boss. Pompeo may be wondering how he could counter Trump while copping to the fact that he worked for him for four years. While not mentioning Trump by name, he’s spoken out against him subtly since leaving office.
Neither Pompeo’s team nor No Labels responded to my many requests for them to shed more light on the meeting. And sure, it’s just a meeting, and it may lead nowhere. But I did hear that Pompeo met with the group in Dallas at the request of one of his wealthy donors who is based there. It’s also notable that Pompeo, a Koch-network conservative, would be meeting with a group that’s been poll testing tickets that include Joe Manchin and Lisa Murkowski or Joe Manchin and Larry Hogan. As I have previously reported, No Labels may piss off poohbas on both sides of the aisle in Washington, but the group cannot be taken lightly. The organization has raised more than $50 million to get their third party label on the ballot across all 50 states. It is supported by many ultra high networth donors, like OakTree’s Howard Marks.
No Labels, of course, follows its own code of omerta. They are notoriously tight-lipped about their activity, but meeting with a conservative former Secretary of State is a decidedly good look for them, even if Pompeo might have to spin why he’s chatting with a group that partners with Democrats and is headed by Mark Penn, the Clintons’ former pollster of choice. Those close to Pompeo have suggested to me that he wants to run for president because he wants to share his ideology and elevate his profile. His warning that foreign adversaries are exploiting our intense political divisions may explain the third-party curiosity. But some worry about the implications of this meeting, and what it may suggest to Republican primary voters about his conservative credentials and his seriousness about running on the Republican ticket. At the same time, there’s really no ground-swelling for Pompeo among the Republican base right now. Maybe this was worth the flier?
Hakeem’s Progressive Kryptonite
Opportunity For All Action Fund, an elegantly-titled Super PAC that Hakeem Jeffries worked with during the 2022 election to help beat back progressive challengers, plans to be a major player in the 2024 elections, I’m told. It could even end up becoming the House Minority Leader’s Super PAC of choice to protect incumbents against progressive challengers next cycle.
The group, led by heavy hitting K-Street types like Patti Solis Doyle, the former Hillary operative, raised only $1 million in the 2022 cycle. But they didn’t launch until late into the cycle, and followed the lead of Jeffries’ and Josh Gottheimer’s Team Blue PAC, which supported moderate Democrats during the 2022 cycle. Obviously, a blessing from Jeffries would surely rankle his more progressive colleagues who are already sensitive about the role he played in the last election to defeat progressives. But it may be a necessary tool for him as the House Majority PAC rarely dabbles in primaries. “He’s got to be careful about being overtly anti-progressive,” said a donor to the super PAC. “It’s a risky move because he’s got to work with these people.”
Herschel’s Image Rehab
It looks like Mitch McConnnell’s Senate Leadership Fund has learned a thing or two about Raphael Warnock. During this general election, the S.L.F. spent a whopping $38 million to push damaging ads about Warnock, and nary a penny was spent on ads to pump up their candidate, the deeply flawed Herschel Walker. For the runoff, however, the S.L.F. seems to be taking a different tack, instead spending, $8.6 million on support ads for Walker, according to 527Tracker.com, and $6.7 million on opposition ads against Warnock.
Perhaps the lesson of this election cycle is that negative ads just don’t stick when a party’s own candidate is perceived as severely flawed. SLF spent about $47 million on opposition ads against John Fetterman and they still couldn’t get his polling before 50 percent. Some have wondered if Dr. Mehmet Oz could have used a bit more favorable media. “I think what we learned was that we’re really good at giving people a reason not to vote for somebody,” said a consultant who worked on multiple G.O.P. Senate campaigns. “but we’re really bad at giving people a reason to vote for someone.” Let’s see if works for Walker, perhaps the most flawed candidate of them all.