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McCarthy’s Political REDRUM Moment

Kevin McCarthy
U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Tara Palmeri
September 1, 2022

For the past months, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has been explaining to donors and fellow members that if he doesn’t pick up more than 15 seats in the lower chamber, I have been told, that well, he’s fucked. Meaning that, absent this baker’s-dozen increase in Republican membership, it’ll be nearly impossible for McCarthy to make the natural ascension to speaker and lead with the comfortable support of his party. Six months ago, with Biden floundering and Roe the law of the land, this sort of hypothetical was unimaginable. Now, every day The Cook Political Report predicts smaller margins for Republicans in the fall midterm elections. As I reported, McCarthy told donors last month in Jackson Hole he only expects to pick up 15 seats. And while that would be enough for McCarthy to be speaker, the job he has long coveted, it could also open up a whole new can of worms. 

Whispers on Capitol Hill are already getting even louder that McCarthy may have his own John Boehner-style problem on his hands. Recall that in 2015, after serving as Speaker of the House for four years, Boehner faced resistance within his own party from the ultra conservative Freedom Caucus. A half-hearted Paul Ryan eventually replaced him as speaker and Boehner, the ultimate creature of Washington, would retire. McCarthy has surely worked harder than most to ossify his relationship with Trump. But as the MAGA faction of the House continues to grow and drift rightward, some House Republicans are wondering how short his leash might be. “His problem will never be becoming speaker. It’s staying as speaker. That’s going to be much more of a challenge,” said a source in the Freedom Caucus.