To the extent that he’s had a defined strategy at all during this past week of chaotic voting, repeated humiliation, private fuming, and fevered deal-cutting, Kevin McCarthy has been trying to stall for time. All the B.S. about progress and the enduring dialogue between all sides, not to mention all those press leaks, is a thinly veiled attempt to persuade his allies that he can hold on for another vote, another day, all while silencing internal critics and allies, alike, who might be growing impatient or pondering their own career opportunities.
Steve Scalise, McCarthy’s outwardly loyal deputy, has taken on a more complex role in this negotiation since one of the saboteurs signaled late last year that they’d happily support him as speaker. Ever since, the dynamic has acquired an aura of gamesmanship: On the surface, Scalise must remain ever loyal or risk his own fate amid accusations of traitordom, at least until a McCarthy nomination truly becomes untenable, at which point he needs to be ready with his votes counted. So, on some level, McCarthy’s fevered tap dancing the past few days has been as much about creating optical signs of momentum to advance his bid, but also minimizing any window for Scalise. “As long as he digs in, there’s no Scalise,” a McCarthy ally explained. (Scalise’s office has steadfastly said he supports McCarthy. He sat next to Eli Crane, a “Never Kevin” in the 12th vote, presumably a signal of future arm-twisting before tonight’s 10 p.m. session.)